I decided to retire at the end of Spring 2001. I came to this decision in the matter of three days last week.
For most of my adult life I always thought I would live very long. At one point I had the notion that I will go on living until 100, or at least 99. But, more recently, I started thinking that I might go sooner. This is, undoubtedly, the sense of vulnerability that surfaced with my recent illness and injury: diabetes and osteoporosis. So, I did a little arithmetic. If I died at 80, retiring at 70 will leave me a mere decade to live a life for myself, and this is decidedly not long enough. This calculation prompted me to think further that I should seriously consider retiring sooner than I had been imagining.
In the last two or three years the summer without school has been getting progressively more alluring to me for the sense of liberty it was delivering. The sick leave I took last spring reinforced my attraction to a life without school obligations; and yet until very recently I was still quite certain that I will keep on teaching at least to 70 and possibly even longer. As I started counting, however, retiring sooner became more and more urgent. Once I started thinking this way I wanted to retire as soon as possible, maybe after just another year, even foregoing the postponed sabbatical semester leave. I needed this leave, however, to wind up a project of long standing. If I took this leave in Spring 2000, College requires me to teach another year after that. The soonest I can retire is, therefore, only at the end of Spring 2001. So, that's what I decided, and the decision came in two days.
In June 2001, I will be 68-1/2; and I shall have 12 years to myself until 80. I will then have taught 38 years altogether, 35 years at Swarthmore. I gave a brief thought to the possibility of teaching part-time after that as some who retire seem to prefer to do, to go gently into a new lifestyle. But I decided that I'd rather not. Tax law, for one, favors a clean end. But, too, once my mind was set on retiring, I have become quickly anxious for a definitive end of obligations and total freedom. I love teaching, of course, I always did and will never tire of it; but I feel I have had enough of the peripheral duties that go with teaching: grading, advising, attending meetings and fulfilling committee obligations.
Retiring does not mean quitting; it is for me a new beginning. I think of my retirement as going freelance. I have a lot to read and write, and I will read and write totally for myself rather than under obligations. During active teaching my reading has been weighted heavily toward what I needed in teaching and research in my chosen area of specialization. There are so many books in other subject areas for which I had no time, and I have many ideas for writing unrelated to classroom subjects and beyond the area of my scholarly pursuit. Certainly I shall be financially more comfortable if I went on teaching longer; but so far as I am concerned the gain in freedom is incalculable. I would enjoy, too, picking up my cello again, learning to weave, and spending more time puttering in the garden.
Once I decided to retire, young students curiously began to seem even younger, and I say curiously because I don't in truth feel any older despite my diabetes and osteoporosis. A thought also passed my mind once in a while that I may be losing grips on the current scholarship in my own fields; but this is not really true either. It is more likely that my appetite for exploring new subjects beyond those that I have already made mine in my teaching and research subjects is beginning to weigh heavier and preempt the desire to continue along a narrow path of specialization. I have always diversified, far more than most of my academic colleagues, especially in my teaching. But I look forward to further diversification. I am eager to spread out perhaps rather irresponsibly -- definitely chaotically.
Then, I like Spring 2001, the year made memorable by Kubrick.
T. Kaori Kitao, 05.02.99
Living in Manhattan