Three years ago I wrote of my decision to retire two years hence.
I am now retired. I have been retired now almost one full year. Friends and colleagues naturally ask me on every occasion I see them how I am enjoying my retirement.
Almost every retiree answers this question saying how wonderful it is, how terrific, how incredibly stupendous. That's the answer my senior colleagues who had retired before me used to tell me on those occasions I happened to see them after retirement and posed the same stock question.
In the first six months of retirement I had a very short stock answer: Everyday is Saturday.
If I weren't huffing to get somewhere, I'd say that I am living like a grasshopper, carefree and sybaritic. But then I'd add in explanation that, if such a life, enviable as it may be, seemed rather irresponsible, I really have no compunction since for decades, irrefutably, I toiled like an ant.
But six months into retirement I came to realize that my short statements were far from accurate. I found myself toiling hard just as before. The proof of it is that my regimen of six-hour sleep has not relaxed. I was still staying up until 2:00 a.m. most evenings, sometimes even later, still nursing my old sleep deficiency syndrome. Habit perhaps dies hard. I was expecting nevertheless to catch up with my sleep upon retirement. To retire is to withdraw from active life, to rest, to live, if not passively, at a leisurely pace. The cartoon image of retirement is lounging in an armchair or resting on a hammock with a book in hand. Those who are comfortably retired travel for leisure.
To be retired is a peculiarly American idiom. In Europe I don't say that I am retired but that I am living on pension: pensionée, pensionata, pensioniert, pensionerad, gepensioneerd, etc. Living on the money set aside for this purpose, I am willfully unemployed. I am thereby freed of obligations and their impositions and constraints. I have no schedule except whatever that I set up freely according to my whim. In this sense everyday is Saturday, and life is paradisiacal. But nothing has come to rest in my case. I am enjoying, however, one very significant change. I don't fret. Freed of schedules and obligations, I can now afford not to fret. If I miss a train, there is always another, and I don't mind waiting and doing some hard thinking while waiting. I take time enjoying dinner at the table; I can take my eyes away from the book I am reading and pause. Without having to rush anywhere, I can sit and read the morning paper the very morning it is delivered which I used to read at the end of the day, three days later, even a week later, or never. Not fretting is a luxury, and it is good for the soul no less than the body.
There are, of course, those who never retire: artists, architects, actors, scientists and scholars, orchestra conductors, by and large, and, Luciano Pavarotti most notoriously. Others may retire but continue to make themselves busy and useful serving the society in various capacities related to or unrelated to their profession. Most people on pension probably have not stopped working. To think of it, I haven't either.
By good fortune I was offered last summer the use a studio apartment in New York belonging to a generous friend who had to be away from the city for two years to attend a law school. So I have been splitting my time between my home in Swarthmore and the apartment in Manhattan, three days there and three days here more or less, on an irregular schedule. I refer to the two abodes as my country estate and my townhouse, because, modest as they are, they allow me the best of the two worlds. This is luxury. While in New York I spend my time mostly going to museums and galleries during the day and theatres in the evenings, predominantly opera and ballets at Lincoln Center but also plays and shows on and off Broadway, all on carefully planned tight schedule. Back home, I have the house and the garden to look after, entertain my cat Qif, and catch up with correspondence. Then, I also plan the activities for the week ahead in New York. If the sun is out and it's warm, I sit in the garden to read and work on my deeptan. Unless it is cold or rainy, writing is therefore relegated to evenings, mostly in wee hours after midnight. With two half-days given to commuting by train between Swarthmore and New York, my life on pension is, as a friend observed, conspicuously frenetic. I say it is not because there is no pressure; it is not frenetic, just packed dense.
I have been characterizing my life on pension as sybaritic because I spend a good deal of my time in the world of art, theater, music, cinema, and books. I am steeped in those activities that are broadly called entertainment, or a bit more kindly, Arts and Leisure, activities that are conventionally perceived as frivolous. But I am dead serious about them. I just don't go to see Hedda Gabler; if I decide to go and see it, I read the play in advance and study it carefully. I wanted to hear the words sung in Richard Strauss's Arabella; so, I studied Hugo von Hofmannsthal's libretto, listened to a recording first to learn the music as best as I can, then listened to the music again following the text of the libretto as I listen, and read a bit about the opera, and finally attended the performance, first to hear the text and again for the second time to hear the words and the music together. I do the same with Italian operas even though I am familiar enough with many of them and I can also more easily hear the words in Italian texts. I do the same kind of preliminary study with concert music and also with art exhibitions, which I tried to visit at least twice. Some people on pension take college courses; in a sense, I am enrolled in an individually tailored, self-administered seminar. The study is intense and time-consuming. Playing hard, after all, is hard work. Little wonder I am even busier than I was before retirement.
Oh, yes, I have scholarly projects; but I am in no hurry to get to them, for a while anyway. I have no reason to fret. . . not yet.
T. Kaori Kitao, 05.02.02