TT: Mind and Body in Motion

JANE: Well, Alan, last time you promised to reveal all about your retirement plans.  I await revelation!

ALAN: Once we’ve moved house, the master plan kicks in. The first step is to get a dog. I’m sure the cats will have something to say about that, but I’m afraid they’ll just have to put up with it.

Lang may yer lum reek

Lang may yer lum reek

Partly I want a dog so that I will be forced to do some exercise by taking it for a walk. But mainly I want a dog simply because I want a dog. Unlike cats, dogs need company and I always felt that it would not be fair on the dog if I was away for long stretches of time at work – particularly since I used to travel a lot in my job. Sometimes I could be away from home for days and weeks at a time. I had a dog as a child, and I’ve always wanted another one. So a dog is high on the list of priorities.

JANE: Ah…  My cats and guinea pigs are completely spoiled by having me work at home.  If I leave for more than about three hours, I am greeted with worried looks and lots of clinging.  The situation is complicated because Jim works at home a couple days a week.  The animals are very indignant when he leaves.

Given how much more dependent they are by nature, I can’t imagine how a dog would react.  It would probably have a nervous breakdown if I left for more than five minutes.

So, you’re moved and you have a dog.  What next?

ALAN: I also want to indulge myself with some studying. All my life I’ve worked in a highly technical field and all my formal qualifications are in scientific and technical subjects. I’ve always read voraciously and widely outside those fields, but I’ve never formally studied things like history, philosophy, linguistics etc.: the so called “arts” subjects.

I’d really like to explore things like this in much more depth. Fortunately it’s easy to do that these days. There are a lot of free courses available on the internet. This is the decade of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs). I intend to take advantage of them and dive in with my eyes wide open in wonder.

JANE: That sounds like fun.   One thing I love about being a writer is that research and study is a constant – at least for me.  Although I’ve only been posting them for a short time now, I’m already getting comments on my Friday Fragments to the effect that I read “all over the place.”  Believe me, if I was including the shorter material – magazine articles, excerpts from various books and encyclopedias – you’d see the diversity even more.

ALAN: I don’t find that odd at all. I do the same thing. There are so many interesting subjects in the world!

JANE: So, what else are you planning on doing?

ALAN: I’d like to do a lot more writing as well. Maybe I’ll blow the dust off the dead novels I started and never finished…

JANE: Ah, hah!  Jim also has three novels he wrote that he never managed to sell.  Eventually, he focused in tightly on archeology but there’s one story in particular that he periodically discusses going back and re-writing when he retires.

Don’t tell me about your novel ideas, but you can bet that when you finish one, I’ll be first in line to read it!

ALAN: Of course, you are in quite a different situation from me. As far as I can tell, writers never retire, they just keep on writing forever. Old writers never die, they just live happily ever after, as it were. What are your future plans?

JANE: Well, for one, even if I had a “real” job, I’m pretty far away from retirement age, so what I might do really isn’t something I’ve thought about.

And, honestly, the issue is a whole lot more complicated than you seem to realize.  Basically, if writers want to keep selling, they need to keep writing and publishing.  I know of one writer (who shall remain nameless) who believed he had a solid enough following that his backlist would keep supporting him and he could retire.

What he discovered was that he could not.  Readers are tempted to try a writer’s backlist because there is some sort of “buzz” about the writer.  This “buzz” can take many forms, but the best is generated by a new book.  A new book reminds people that a writer exists.

Now, the writer of whom I was speaking made his attempt to retire in the days before self-publishing but, as we have discussed elsewhere and at great length, self-publishing does not magically sell books without any effort on the writer’s part.  In fact, as I see it, self-publishing is the furthest thing from a quiet retirement. It’s being a writer, publicist, marketing specialist, and all the rest.

ALAN: And that’s a lot of very hard work indeed.

JANE: You must remember, in the U.S. we have nothing like your government retirement pension and, as I mentioned last week, Social Security pays out based on what you contributed during your working life.   Therefore, most Americans rely on savings and investments and/or retirement plans from their jobs to supplement this.  Most writers do not make very much money, therefore they will not have contributed much to Social Security, nor will they have savings and/or investments.

I know from discussing this with other writers that I am in the minority in having both.

Therefore, the only way for a writer to keep having an income is not to retire…

ALAN: On the plus side, there seems to be something about the mental activity involved in writing that keeps the brain and body young. I know several writers who are currently in their seventies, verging on eighties and they are still young and spry and productive. And look at Frederik Pohl who was still writing very high quality material well into his nineties!

Of course, that’s not true of everyone.

JANE: No, it’s not.  Far from it.  I saw firsthand how illness can slow down a writer’s production, even if that writer wants to write.  Even on his better days, Roger would often fall asleep over the yellow legal pad on which he liked to write.  On the bad days… forget it.  Writing is not a job you can do if you are feeling muddleheaded.

And, sadly, with aging comes a greater chance of some sort of physical debilitation, so the chance that writing productivity will slow or stop with age is something that too few writers take into account.

Honestly, it’s because I’ve seen this up close that I started salting money away for the future when I could, even if it meant going without some of the many indulgences I saw my friends enjoying.  I knew that I might be forced to give up my chosen career… That would be painful enough without also facing poverty.

ALAN: That’s a very sad picture of Roger. But I have to say I admire the hard-headed, pragmatic choices that you’ve made as a result. Lang may yer lum reek!

JANE: Uh, Alan…  I think I need a translation, I can get “Long may your…”  but?

ALAN: “Lang may yer lum reek” is a Scottish saying. Literally it means “Long may your chimney smoke,” the implication being that we hope you have enough fuel to keep the fire going throughout the year. But idiomatically it means “I wish you a long life and many riches.” Or (in the original Vulcan) “Live long and prosper.”

JANE: Ah…  Revelation!

2 Responses to “TT: Mind and Body in Motion”

  1. Paul Says:

    I retired seven years ago and had many of the same goals – writing, taking some college courses, pursuing hobbies. I’ve done a bit of all three, but still not all, at least not to the extent I want. Even in retirement, mundane stuff keeps interfering. I hope you, Alan, have better luck once the house stuff is behind you. And I do recommend getting a dog. Dogs are wonderful.

  2. janelindskold Says:

    I really like the modern approach to retirement… Elder hostels encourage the sort of inexpensive travel that used to be restricted to backpacking teens. Colleges now actively recruit returning students. As someone who once taught college, I’m all for the mix. Both sets of students benefit greatly.

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