Just me thinking about the philosophy of retirement

There’s been a lot of talk in my neck of the woods about retirement / retirement planning, these days. Another colleague has bid farewell to my workplace, there have been discussions in government about pushing back the age of retirement to 67, Hubby is concerned about his ability to retire in x number of years . . . But every time I hear someone mention looking forward to retiring, or having the right to retire — Hubby included — I’m honestly bothered.

Being able to retire is, in my mind, not necessarily a granted right. I think it’s become something of a given, but it’s a privilege in a society with increasing costs but static pensions. And historically speaking, in Western society, retirement didn’t really become an expectation or a reality until sometime during the 20th century.* Think about it: pensions were introduced at a time when most people didn’t live to see their 60th birthday. We worked until we died. It’s not a pleasant thought, yet that was reality for most of recorded history. And those who didn’t die on the job eventually became either revered elders, cared for by their (grown) children and communities, or paupers who were dependent on whatever system was available. The idea of being able to step away from one’s job or career to make room for a younger adult, enjoying one’s “sunset years” in a degree of comfort, seems to be a widely-accepted social goal.

I get it. You work and work and work and then you stop and you enjoy the years remaining to you (or months, weeks, days) as much as possible, reaping the rewards of your years of work. That depends on whether you were able to save for that eventuality, something that more of us are finding it difficult or impossible to do. And thanks to modern medicine, better nutrition, healthier lifestyles, etc., most Baby Boomers and the generations following them can expect those sunset years to turn into decades. Heck, the parents of the Boomers are still going, too, in many cases. My paternal grandmother passed away in her 80s, my maternal grandmother in her early 90s.

But it bothers me that this hope, this expectation, is now so widespread. The game has changed and now, financially, our goals have to include being able to provide for not only ourselves and our kids as they’re growing up, but also the potentially three or four decades after we’ve retired. It’s not surprising how many retirees end up having to go find part-time jobs, especially if they end up caring for elderly parents, grandchildren, or other expenses. And yet — my mother-in-law is about to officially retire, and every time she visits, the subject comes up that she feels she’s earned it. She’s earned the break from working, and deserves the time. Yes, of course she has. But that sense of entitlement — that it’s a part of the cycle we all get to have — how true is it outside of our sphere of #FirstWorld living?

There was a Star Trek: Next Generation episode involving a culture in which all members of society are expected to end their lives at the age of 60, regardless of whether they wanted to or not. The story involved a man who wasn’t ready to go; he still had important research to do and wanted to marry again. But most of his society expected that their lives would finish up at that age, partially to keep the population in check, and for other reasons including ensuring quality of life (given that quality may decline sharply after the 6th decade). It was a controversial story in many ways. After all, the majority of human beings would prefer to live as long as possible, fighting for another day — or hour, or minutes — of life even in the most dire of circumstances. It’s not improbable or impossible for us to stop making contributions to society after 60. How many successful thinkers, inventors, doers, artists, etc., reached their peak after 60? Or 70? Or older?

And yet . . . Maybe it’s the attitude with which some people approach their retirement that bothers me. When someone speaks of their retirement as something that is their due, as though nothing else could be expected, that everyone will or should enjoy it no matter their financial circumstances — I think it’s the lack of gratitude and amazement that bothers me the most. Retirement is a gift. It’s not an award granted to those who work hard enough and long enough, because death could and does happen at any time. If you find yourself in a position where you can step away from paid work in order to spend time on other things you enjoy and do out of choice, whether it’s travel or family or hobbies or sports, that’s not something to which you were entitled or that you had a right to expect. It’s an amazing and beautiful gift, because you’re in the minority of the world which will receive it. To be perfectly honest, I think successfully retiring with the ability to withdraw completely from paid work is like winning the lottery. You may have done an awesome job with the finances, saving appropriately and investing wisely, building your nest egg as we’re all advised to do, but you also could have had a major medical crisis or worse, died. If you can retire, completely, then you’ve won a gift from nature.

And be kind and understanding of those who must continue to work even when society says they’ve “retired”. Because that’s what we’ve always done, we humans. We live, we work; we work to live, and then we move on to another journey.

Maybe that’s really why people focus on retirement as The Goal — because what happens after that is what is most feared and unknowable.

*ADDENDUM: Found some interesting articles on this, if you’re interested in further reading . . .

http://www.nytimes.com/1999/03/21/jobs/the-history-of-retirement-from-early-man-to-aarp.htm

http://seattletimes.com/html/nationworld/2022570647_apxretirementhistory.html

http://www.historymuseum.ca/cmc/exhibitions/hist/pensions/cpp-a52-wcr_e.shtml

http://mapleleafweb.com/features/canada-pension-plan-overview-history-and-debates

http://actionplan.gc.ca/en/initiative/eliminating-mandatory-retirement-age

Blogging with Tara Fox Hall!

Welcome, everyone, and most especially, welcome Tara Fox Hall to Romance and Other Dangers! Today, I’m informally interviewing and chatting with my good friend and fellow author on the men and women who inspire our visions of heroes and heroines, random inquiries concerning personality and creative traits, deeply insightful discussions on the meaning of life, and so on and so forth.

Follow along throughout the day and leave a comment, and you could win a free e-copy of Spellbound, the anthology from Melange Books which includes my own short story, “Telltale Signs”, and “The Origin of Fear”, by Tara Fox Hall.

You can also pick up a copy of Spellbound here: http://www.melange-books.com/authors/anthologies/Spellbound2011.html

Or, here: http://www.lulu.com/product/paperback/spellbound-2011-a-halloween-anthology/17820391?showPreview

To begin, I want to compliment you, Tara; your writing pulls me into mystery and suspense immediately; it’s a highly enjoyable read. For those who haven’t yet delved into Tara’s imagination, excerpts from her work are posted below (with the survey — did you do the survey, yet, readers?).

The way “Origin of Fear” plays out reminds me of the master of horror himself, Stephen King. I won’t spoil it for you, but if you like twists and unexpected endings, you have to get your own copy of Spellbound to see how it ends! It’s just a taste of her storytelling gift. “Just Shadows” is bound to be even more chilling.

First Question O’ The Day: Tara, would you please describe your (favourite) writing place? I’d love a visual — where are you when you are splicing ideas and crafting words into novel form?

Intertextu-what now?

In my grade 10 English class, I like introducing the topic of intertextuality. I find it interesting to start finding the connections between and within various texts, film included. (It’s also a way to get them comparing Romeo and Juliet with Lord of the Flies.) I also find it comforting.

You see, years and years ago, when I was in grade 10, doing lots of writing but never actually finishing more than a few short plays, and pieces required for school (thanks, Grandma, for reminding me to keep all of my manuscripts!), I went to a family dinner and shared some of my work. At the time, I was working on an adaptation of Cinderella for the youth group I was in. My uncle, rest his soul, completely shot me down with these three little words: “It’s been done.” As a teen with low self-esteem, and undiagnosed depression, it was utterly crushing, and the adaptation was never finished. My mother told me on the way home not to listen to her brother, as he has always been pessimistic about her ideas too (my mother is very creative, makes beautiful clothing and paints wonderfully well). But I did mind. What was the point of writing if I could not come up with something original? For years I took this incident to heart, and it interfered with my writing. I would get a great idea, but oops — it’s already been done.

Then university, and then teaching. And deciding that intertextuality is part of the fun, the challenge, rather than something to avoid. I have been compelled to put pen to paper, to tell stories to anyone who wants to listen, since I was old enough to print. (My mother still has a story I wrote in kindergarten which was printed in the local paper — apparently I had to help Santa deliver a baby deer on Christmas Eve!) In spite of feeling discouraged by my uncle, I kept trying, and trying. And what I have found in the last few years that I need to focus on writing for myself, first. If I take the pressure off, and worry less about writing for others, I find the journey to be much more smooth and enjoyable.

Of course, some of the goals I set myself are unrealistic. The full novel to follow Mist and Midnight, I had wanted to finish by the start of 2011, then by June, and now by the fall. But I’m not permitting myself to be pessimistic. I finished my first, I can do it, and it was so satisfying completing Mist that I cannot wait to see this one done, and move to the second and third novels I am planning in the series. And if they make indirect reference to previous works, that’s okay — there are certain patterns in a romance, moments that we all recognize that make the reading even more interesting. I love making reference to pop culture here and there, too. It’s my story, as original as I can make it, and while I know there are other paranormal romances involving witches and cops, I like this one because of the direction it’s taking.

There’s another thing about intertextuality. Did you ever read something, and feel like you could do it in another way that could also be interesting? I really like the idea of responding to another text. I recently read Beauty Queens, which is based on Lord of the Flies but with teenage girls. It also mocks the reality tv world, and marketing corporations with a delightful tone. That’s something I would love to do.

So, this afternoon, after hanging out the laundry, cleaning the bathroom (maybe…hate cleaning the bathroom), and various assorted chores, I will continue working on Rayvin and Grant’s story. I last left her walking alone, on a darkened street, having run from a passionate embrace out of embarrassment and a mix of other emotions. Is the vampire stalking her? Certainly. She can’t completely defend herself, but neither is it her time to die. Grant will turn up, a modern spin on the knight on his horse, but he doesn’t have the ability to stop the fiend, either. He’s holding one of the keys, though he doesn’t know it. They are going to have a long conversation, discussing their past, and there will be more passion. Then there will be an argument. I’m not looking forward to that. But at the moment, my uncle’s words hold less power over me than they did when I was a teenager. I’m writing their story for me. When I’m finished, I hope you’ll enjoy it too. I also hope that the timelessness of it will come through, the fact that every story is really one story — what it is like to be human.

Writing Professionally — Does it mean living a double life?

I enjoy spy fiction. I’ve become a huge fan of the Chuck series, and I’ve always had a thing for superheroes…not necessarily for their powers (although those are certainly fun) but because of the challenges they face in leading two lives. I find the conflict between having an alter ego and an “official” life to be really interesting. It’s isolating for the individual, yet necessary for the protection of the people loved by the hero. That isolation in turn leads the hero into sometimes questioning their own role, and purpose. I love that. It’s very Shakespearian, isn’t it? It’s the essence of asking the question, “Who am I, and why am I here again?”.

I write under a pseudonym at the moment, for two main reasons: I want to separate my two professions for a little while, and I think it’s kind of romantic. I’m a sap, what can I say… I cry at the end of Disney movies. Hell, I cried all the way through Bridesmaids, caught up in the emotions of the protagonist’s struggles. In my “official” life as a teacher and a parent, I have a lot going on as we all do, but as my alter ego Tori, I can let some of that go. Or try to, at least. Thinking as Tori, I am able to separate a little while from the mundane and really sink into the fictional world I am creating. It’s a secret pleasure.

But it’s also a problem.

When you have an alter ego, as discovered by Chuck, Peter Parker, Superman, etc., it can get exhausting at times to keep up. I am no superhero (as much as I’d like to pretend), and I’m not even a supermom. I know some supermoms, and in comparison, I muddle along much as my own mother did, but my children are happy and healthy and well-behaved (most of the time…especially around relatives and babysitters and in public), so I guess I’m doing something right.

But I digress.

How do you find balance when you are living two lives? As you can see, I find it difficult or impossible to completely separate my “official” self from the writer, but I don’t think it’s necessary to invent a wholly different persona. I have considered it. But my children, my partner, my regular job, these are all part of who I am. Where I run into difficulty is making time or room for the writer, in the daily patterns of being a mom and a wife. My alter ego, Tori, craves time to dive into the fictional world. I know that one of the markers of a professional writer, is someone who write for a set time every day. I started the summer with a vision of writing for a few hours every afternoon, in my backyard (weather permitting), but so far, I’ve only managed to do this twice. The priorities of parenting, cleaning, and spending time with my other half must be met as well. So by rights, I should not yet call myself a professional writer.

How does someone live two lives, and find time to sleep? What does a professional writer who works from home do when the five year old refuses to be put off, the laundry piles, and the dog needs a walk? My spouse is very supportive and understanding, but he cannot do everything, nor do I expect him to. He gives me time when I need it, but he can’t cover for me every day. The mom needs sleep, but the writer wants to write!

So if you have an alter ego, I’d like to know – how do you separate and yet maintain a balance? Do you mark a time schedule on the fridge and stick to it? Do you have a room in the house where you can lock the door? What do you do when, in your set writing time, someone small will not leave you alone? I guess the easy answer is to stop and come back to it later…but in my case, often that ‘later’ doesn’t come.

Philosophies of Writing

This is advice which is often given to authors, and it’s great. If you write what you know, you give it the depth of your experience. You can describe it more succinctly, draw your readers in. But there’s one drawback – if you only write what you know, what happens if you want to write about life in another planet? In a Fae world? There must be some room for flexibility.

I have also run into another piece of advice: write for yourself, first. If you enjoy what you’ve written, chances are that your readers will too. I like this philosophy, and it really works for me. The more I get caught up in the story emerging, the more I enjoy it, and I find my friends do as well. Plus, if I tell myself that it’s just for me, I’m more likely to finish it, to see where it ends.

Outlining, I do, but my outlines are also flexible, dynamic, constantly being reflected on and revised. I enjoy the journey as much as the destination.

Finally, a good piece of advice I read once was on Stephenie Meyers’ website, I think — write your favorite scenes first, while you are inspired. I have tried doing this, and find that it is definitely helpful. Margaret Mitchell did this too. I don’t need to write in sequence, but I do find that I end up with more editing in the end. That’s okay, except I don’t like editing my own work. I recently had some tips on a draft I shared with friends, that work is needed on a few areas of inconsistency, but I think I need to finish the novel before I go back and fix it. Otherwise, I may get bogged down, and never see the end of it. And I soooo want to see the end, I know how it’s supposed to go, but when you see it taking shape on the screen, it’s so exciting!