As I wrote about approaching the end of  40 years of teaching  (A Dual Career) and what it was like to carry on two separate threads over a whole career I thought it might be helpful to discuss what it feels like on the other side of the employment divide, what is commonly referred to as "retirement". If you are young be careful that you don't dismiss retirement as irrelevant. It will happen to you. For many, retirement is almost a dirty word, denoting atrophy, decline and death. For others the word "retire" implies freedom and a life "smelling the roses".

I don't think either of those definitions quite fits what I am doing. I believe, two years into retirement, that I have been set free to do what I wanted for now many years: make pictures. This has resulted in much new work (some might say too much), perhaps as much travel as being at home, some teaching and a few residencies.

What's that like?

Mostly, really good. No deadlines, few meetings, lots of free time and productivity photo-wise like you can't believe.  If you're one of those people always trying to steal time to make art, retirement's for you. I can remember wishing for a day here and there with no schedule, no class starting at 8 am or 1:35 pm, no commute and free time to make art. At times this can be a "be careful what you wish for" thing as there can be too much down time but that simply means I haven't moved to schedule things down the line that will be interesting and allow me to make new discoveries, meet new people and extend my pictures into new realms. Also, it is important to have enough money to do as you wish. If you are early in your career please heed this: retirement could be really bad should you not be able to afford to do what you've always wanted, be it travel, work on projects, obtain exhibition, publish and so on. So, save for retirement, put money aside or plug into your company's or school's retirement plans. Start early, try to ignore it while its building and stick with it.

As I age, my health and ability to do what I want factors in, of course, but so far (knock on wood!) I don't seem to be too limited. I'm not climbing mountains anymore but don't feel so deprived. (BTW: I taught a mountain climbing photography workshop in the late 80's in Colorado's San Juan Range.) My particular kind of photography makes me rely on traveling to make much of my work, so that part has to be planned for. For the past ten years or so, I have tended to rent someplace when I travel. VRBO and AIRBNB have turned out to be mostly good but, if new to these services, it is buyer beware. Do lots of research. If you are like me and need to be somewhere else to make your pictures then think about how best to do that. If you flash through places, as in the the equivalent of 16 countries in 16 days, nothing you will do will be anything more than a first impression. But if you establish a "base camp", a place you call home while you are there, you have wonderful options and opportunities to visit a place or an area several times. I often describe this way of working as a center where you sleep, eat and rest. This is, in effect, the hub of the wheel. The day trips you take to photograph are the spokes and fan out 360 degrees from the hub. Can't get far enough away in a day or find yourself in an area where you want to work more? Stay over a night or  two, then head back to the hub when done. Hotels and motels get old for me after awhile. Restaurant food too. And driving all day every day is no fun either. I did this a whole lot when I was younger but now tend to fly to where I want to go and rent a car. Renting  palace to live and a car makes much more sense to me.

As I am single I don't have any others to consider when working or traveling to make new work. I don' have pets and I don't have plants. That's so I can go away whenever I like.  

I have a tendency to become reclusive, to hide away and do my work, without enough contact with others to keep me out and active. I have learned to search out people, to ask for help, to reach out to what Jason Landry of Panopticon Gallery calls, the"art community". These are the people that can provide support, recommendations, counsel and criticism when needed. I value them tremendously and learn from them often. 

Since what we do (exhibit our work) means very often having things scheduled quite far out it is also important to have short term goals too. Keeping yourself curious and invested is important in retirement. This can be hard to pull off but consider the alternatives: once again, "atrophy, decline and death". Oh boy.

And finally, I believe it is important to give back when you get older. If you've been in a community for many years and have benefitted from it, think about how you can help others in that community. This could be the town or city where you live, but could also be to volunteer for a non profit, serve on a board as a trustee or to give your time and/or your dollars to help others that are newer, younger, or up and coming. Wouldn't it have been great if someone or some organization was there to help you as a young man or woman trying to break into a new profession? As you retire, consider giving back.

Sometimes I get caught up in the day to day, just like I used to when I worked. Try to remember to savor what it is that you do have as someone retired. Keep up your health as being sick is a drag, especially when you don't have to work. Finally, you can't only do one thing all the time. Try to diversify your interests. I play the piano, for instance, not well but I work at getting better and have been taking lessons. 

The other day with my former student's daughter, Rose, in California:

Smelling the roses.

Topics: Commentary,retirement,teaching

Permalink | Posted February 25, 2014