This retirement thing is a curious, complicated matter. As my January 2009 endpoint approached, my friend and Sociology department head Paula said, if I wanted, I could stay in my 10th floor Crosley Tower department office till June. I welcomed the reprieve which gave me extra moving time and helped soften the strain of severing ties. I did vacate my Psychology office in December, throwing a lot of stuff away, but also carting a lot of other stuff over to Crosley. I haven’t been at the University a whole lot since then. How can one be retired if they continue to go to work every day?
Going to my former work environment has been odd. Needless to say, my status has changed, and what have been routine encounters in the past have taken on a degree of awkwardness. Despite our long histories, I find myself relating to people in a new capacity -- as an ex-colleague. They inquire how my new life is going, and I either say it’s going fine or, if I’m being more candid, that I’m still trying to figure it out. Sometimes people say how great retirement must be, and then I say it’s o.k. but that working was better. In fact, I liked my job.
Because of a couple of our faculty are taking new positions elsewhere, the department office space situation is not dire. As June approached, I explored the possibility of moving into my former colleague Blasco’s thirteenth floor office. The most tragic happening during my stint as department head occurred when Blasco collapsed and died while teaching a session of his summer school class in introductory sociology. His office has been vacant since, and, because of its peripheral location and perhaps the sadness of its recent history, no one has moved up there. Department secretary Linda took me up to look it over. It’s a room in a former chemistry lab suite, with a long black slate-like tabletop on the west wall, equipped with gas nozzles. There are glass-doored cabinets mounted over the work area, designed to hold beakers and chemistry whatnots, and spacious wooden equipment cabinets below. It has a double window and a panoramic view of the Mill Creek valley and the hills of Cincinnati’s west side. With a large desk, several file cabinets, bookcases, and a computer stand, it would clearly meet my needs. I told Paula I’d like to move in.
My New Office
Moving around at the end of one’s career is no easy business, task-wise or emotionally. Between my two former offices, I had two libraries, two desks crammed full of papers, and eight completely filled four-drawer file cabinets. Stuff from classes I’d taught since the late 1960s, hundreds of students I’d worked with, committees I’d served on, faculty meetings attended, research projects I’d done (going all the way back to my doctoral dissertation), thousands of scholarly articles, and drawer after drawer of yellowed lecture notes. Starting last September and over a period of months, I went through all this painstakingly, one piece of paper at a time. I set aside items which were noteworthy career or life markers. This was a nostalgic venture, and I was surprised that I wound up discarding a whole lot of this material.
I don’t know yet if sticking around the university is a good or bad idea. One approach to retiring is to cut one’s ties completely, sharply reducing or ending professional activities and contact with former colleagues. Most of my retired colleagues have followed this route. An opposite approach is to continue major aspects of one’s career though formally retired. My friend Sam Minkarah did this, teaching classes, editing a journal, serving on student M.A. and Ph.D. committees, and working on his funded research projects. Right now I am somewhere in between, and moving into a new office constitutes some sort of new beginning, however vague that may be. Am I still a social psychologist? What connections do I have to my former department or the university? I do get bored being at home, and I like having a space outside the house in which to pursue projects and have daily contact with friends. My new office enables me to hold onto parts of my identity as a university professor, despite doing little or no actual professing. I have a number of unfinished scholarly projects I could work on, if I decide to pursue that course. Maybe it’s a bad omen, but I spent some time the other day trying to locate the draft of a book that I wrote during my last sabbatical. The relevant floppy disk was empty, there was no file on my hard drive, and I couldn’t find a print copy in my records. Can one actually lose a book they’ve been working on? I will see what happens and let you know how it goes. Till then, my office phone number is 556-4703.