Tuesday, July 27, 2010

My retirement (by Jeffrey Ross)

Retirement may appear an inappropriately eco [as in economics] sensitive topic, particularly during these times of extended unemployment opportunities. Nonetheless, I feel compelled to discuss my experiences since retiring in 2008 as a full-time community college English instructor.

This is not an obituary, celebration, or warning— let’s pretend it is a field study “grounded” in the context of a community college composition instructor’s post paper grading reality. Sort of.

So what have I been doing with my time? Watching SpongeBob, Cash in the Attic, CSI, or CNN? Scrutinizing my diminished investment accounts? Writing the great American novel?

No, I have not become addicted to television, vampire novels, gambling, or alcohol. Nor have I second guessed my decision very much.

Funny, I do not feel retired. Just different.

I am fortunate [and thankful] to maintain medical insurance coverage via my institution’s “work agreement” program. This also keeps me engaged through teaching (one class per semester) and other accreditation-related editing duties.

I do consider returning to the full time work world—I have applied for “attractive” positions in Vancouver, Scotland, and Hawaii. Hmm, well, OK, I’m 0-5-- yet remain hopeful.

One of my old dreams--employment with a four year institution during my life’s autumnal season-- is appealing, but seems increasingly unlikely.

Not possessing a Blackberry, I pod, or GPS system, I more or less function in an unconnected world—except for my computer….

My current best friend is my apparently outdated liberal arts education. I live, therefore I think.

The Good

I am able to spend more time with my nine year old son. This is invaluable. I volunteer at his grammar school a morning or two each week to help with reading or in the computer lab.

I’ve been able to read more of what I enjoy, and I am actually beginning to vaguely grasp the difference between “emics” and “etics.” I’ve had several small articles published (i.e., on stewardship, faculty development, and the changing faculty college culture). I have tried writing poetry, of course, but can’t quite seem to find that esoteric MFA phrasing required of a post Old Economy New American Poet.

Though not writing a vampire book, I have sketched out a comic novel about the American community college work experience (with a splash of South American political intrigue for effect!). Still looking for a publisher….

Big TV’s or Big Kitchens don’t interest me. I like peace and quiet and small meals. The ostentatious American life—we’ll, it is just not for me.

Riding my motorcycle across the expanses of Arizona desert—or through the forests—now that provides lovely escapist pleasure.

I have always lived “below” my means, and have more or less validated the belief that the best things in life are free [or at least inexpensive].

I enjoy a can of smoked oysters and some potato salad—and might splurge on Mexican beer or Scottish ale [if on sale]. Maybe.

One of my retired colleagues once said, “I enjoy the flexibility retirement provides.”

The Bad

I seldom second-guess my decision to unbuckle from the Sinclair Lewis-like harness of labor [grading essays!]. But, retirement has brought about a kind of existential uncertainty.

I wish I could have contributed more to the study of writing composition pedagogies.

Unfortunately my legacy [a work in stagnant progress] will never be mentioned in the same breath as James Britton or Sharon Crowley.

I was never “defined” by my job in terms of self- worth—yet I continue to enjoy the professional growth that comes from thinking, reading, writing, and being heard.

In an old fashioned way, I enjoy my discipline more than the trendy and corporate notions of organizational management or “branding” or collaboration theory or quality improvement…. Perhaps that love of discipline helped me make my retirement decision—

Plus, I am beginning to feel just a smidgen of slippage away from current technologies.

Maybe my [nagging] work ethic would be satisfied if I just get a job (my son recommended I work either at a Lego store or Mafia Mike’s Pizza.)

Speaking of economics, the world is different than it was in 2008 as I moved towards social disengagement.

I sometimes have the dark sense that my future financial plans may not work--I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling.

[It also strikes me as sort of odd that the international banking system suffered near total economic fatality just a month or two after I retired! Could I have single-handedly caused such stress to the financial system? ]

One troubling aspect of this retired life. I have find myself spending far too much time worrying about laundry and the lawn. Such fixations can’t be healthy.

Didn’t someone say an unexamined retired life is not worth living?

Grading Retirement So Far

B-. I have avoided the pitfalls of movie matinees, right wing and left wing news networks, and martinis at 9:00 am. But I must concentrate more on being productive (as I would define it). I believe my current great danger is too much self scrutiny or criticism.

If I really want to marvel, I try to think of where the past 30 years went. Hmm. Maybe I should take up the study of relativity…. Is that part of the liberal arts?

[Jeffrey Ross is a semi-retired English Instructor at Central Arizona College.]


  1. I am still 14 years from retirement, but I can't say your article makes me look forward to that day. How will I fill the time I spend worrying about my students, attending their functions, and gossiping about them with my peers--especially when I no longer have coworkers! I think I'll just keep working forever and someday fall asleep in my office and not wake up.

    I do wish you were having an A+ retirement, though. May you should start another band?

  2. Ross-- I have read many of your articles on the community college experience-- good to see you are still alive and writing. I look forward to your novel on the community college experience. Why do you suppose organizational management has displaced teaching and learning at most of our higher education institutions? There is so much talk about branding, leadership, mission statements, vision-- yet our students struggle and the nation seems to be weakening. Do you think administrators are worth their inflated salaries?

  3. So who are "James Britton or Sharon Crowley" -- I am not aware of these people.

  4. Professors Britton and Crowley are recognized authorities in composition and rhetoric (writing) theory. They both have written significant books and influenced how writing is taught... I believe Dr. Crowley is now teaching at Arizona State University.


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