Malcolm Nelson - Personal Retirement Story
My decision to retire was gradual and practical. I have always loved teaching literature, had done it for half a century, and I was in no hurry to leave that behind. My health was good, my energy level high. But one thing moved me toward a decision to go: my hearing began to fail. Of course I had the support of an excellent hearing clinic at SUNY Fredonia, and am now on my second generation of high-tech hearing aids—but they are no substitute for young ears. My style of teaching was always like a tennis match—back and forth, volleying at the net—and that got much harder to do when I had to ask students to repeat what they’d said. So, at about 70, I began to consider retirement.
A gracious administration and my fine English department colleagues allowed me three years of quarter-time teaching to ease into retirement: half-time in the Fall, off in the Spring. I can’t express how wonderful that was, and I recommend it to anyone who can make such a deal. (It also helped me to finish my latest book, TWENTY WEST, just before retirement.) I would also make one other suggestion: don’t go til you’re sure you want to.
Now, in retirement, I echo what an English friend told me when she retired: that she was so busy she didn’t know how she’d had time for work. There are certainly no dull moments. I travel a bit more than I used to, though I’ve always been a Roads Scholar. I go to Yellowstone every summer. I am now free to head south for warmth in mid-winter, and my lady Joyce and I do that, in the lovely Florida Keys. I remain active in several groups. UUP takes up a lot of my time, and, as always, seems a superb investment of time and energy. UUP is as diverse as SUNY, and it has stretched my circle of friends and my consciousness in the best way. I still lead my own singing group and will until I can croak no more.
Always a reader, I find I now have time to catch up on all the good books I had little time for while a full-time teacher, particularly fiction. My speciality was drama and poetry, especially Renaissance English poetry and drama. I still read there, but I am also loving Jane Austen (“Mansfield Park” is a HOOT!) and Margaret Drabble and Margaret Atwood and David Mitchell and Ivan Doig and the list is endless. I also keep up with environmental books and popular science, and I continue to write and publish on such topics.
A friend dropped in today and asked how I liked retirement and said she couldn’t wait for it. I told her I wish I could have waited—I do miss teaching and the company of young people—but as another wise old colleague once told me, “Retirement holds no terrors.” If you’re healthy and more or less sane, it’s great fun. And one more thing I have discovered. When I was a little kid, my parents made me take naps. I HATED them and rarely slept and couldn’t wait to get back up and roaring, or reading. I now take a nap probably every other day. That little kid I used to be was wrong about naps; young and strong and stupid, what did he know?? They’re heavenly and I have time for them now.