Reflections on 10 years of Retirement

The retirement decision was difficult; I was preparing to give up a steady paycheck in exchange for enhanced flexibility and freedom.  I had some doubts but it was time to go.

I had not been promoted since 1992 and was unlikely to be again.  I was no longer welcome to teach my favorite class, Chem II lecture, because “your course was just too difficult” and its existence “ was threatening chemistry at GPC”, according to one administrator.  I began having difficulty filling my Chem I and Environmental Science courses because other sections were perceived as being less challenging. 

So, I pulled the trigger and sent off my resignation letter in late July 2011,  a year in advance, to my dean and my department chair.

I will be leaving Georgia Perimeter College as a full-time faculty member no later than the end of the summer term 2012 to pursue scholarly, domestic and recreational opportunities, but at a more measured pace.

Thanks very much for your support over the years. 

My timing was marvelous.  The following May there was an announcement that the college was in arrears to the tune of several tens of millions of dollars because of accounting irregularities.  There would be layoffs; no travel money for conferences or workshops would be available for the foreseeable future.

No surprise here.  I was a principal investigator on two projects, an NSF Laboratory Improvement grant (1995) and a teacher training grant through the State of Georgia (2006).  In both cases it was impossible to reconcile the accounts because these were never up-to-date and the statements mostly incomprehensible.  There was always one person who could “straighten things out”, but the explanations were never satisfying.  I am not an expert accountant but I did have two courses in accounting in B-school so I knew what GAAP required.  When I complained I was always told that everything was OK and the audits were satisfactory.  Sure they were…, the college was growing, there was plenty of cash influx, which made it easier to mask or ignore troubling expenditures.

Subsequently, the same thing happened to GPC that happens to any business that provides necessary goods or services but cannot operate in the black; it loses its independence.

 The University System lost patience with the GPC folks in charge and fired or reassigned them.  The System’s accounting watchdog came in and fixed the accounts. 

Georgia Perimeter College became part of Georgia State University.

***

So… what does one do when retired?  One continues one’s life but without the scheduling necessary to make a living.  If a person has developed a variety of interests while working retirement becomes much easier .

Retired folks are perceived as having lots of free time and unlimited resources.  Not so!  As nature abhors a vacuum it also abhors a retired guy without anything to do.  I always have plenty to do; but often find a shortage of activities I want to do.  

Be wary of being oversubscribed.

Travel

I did not travel internationally until I joined a University System tour for a 16 day trip to Hungary in 2004.  It was great fun and a real eye-opener as to how different eastern Europe was from the US. 

Retirement has allowed us to participate in a golden age of travel and we have taken advantage of it.  We have been to China, much of western Europe and the U.K., the Baltic states, Australia and New Zealand, Madagascar, Costa Rica and Peru. 

In late 2019 we booked a return trip (for me, anyway) to Eastern Europe on a Viking River tour.  We would start in Bucharest, bus down to Constanca and the Danube estuary, eventually boarding a ship on the Black Sea for a trip to Odessa, Ukraine.  From there we were to head up the Dnieper past Kherson, ending the tour in Kyiv, the capital.  Because of Covid-19 we postponed the trip till 2020 and , of course, in 2021 the Russian buildup along with remaining health concerns in Ukraine canceled the trip for the foreseeable future.

Sadly, much of  the eastern part of Ukraine have been leveled by Russian aggression.

Viking Cruise Route: 2020

 

We once again rescheduled our trip, this time for Greece and Turkey for late 2022. Politics, economics and health concerns continue to impact international travel opportunities .

What I Have Accomplished?

I have looked into some of my family history notably about my twice great-grandfather, James E. Denniston.  He was born in Ireland in 1827, traveled to New York City in May, 1834 aboard the ship Britannia from Liverpool with his parents, John and Aleicia (married in 1820, Elphin diocese, county Roscommon, Ireland), and 5 siblings, Aleica, Edward, John, Larkin and Anna and was naturalized by the state court of New York in 1835.  He served in the Union Army in 1862, residing in central Missouri until his death in 1903.

My bread-baking skills have improved and I am currently grinding ( actually chopping) whole grains such as rye, einkorn, purple barley, spelt, Kamut and Kernza[R] into flour to use in whole grain breads.

I have navigated myself through several colonoscopies and my wife through triple-bypass and cataract surgeries.  I remain in good health but realize how tenuous that can be.

I continue to do scientific stuff; I peer review for NSF and Journal of Chemical Education, judge for Science Olympiad and Georgia State’s Research Conference as my time and opportunity allows.

Recently I realized that my knowledge of English and American literature was not very good.  Some of this was because of mediocre courses in high school, but in college I never really had much confidence in my ability to write papers that would satisfy the professor in an upper level humanities class.   Now I wanted to read more widely in these areas, so I ordered a couple of used copies of Norton Anthologies from Amazon, one for literature from the middle ages, one for the restoration period and the 18th century.  Both had a number of  interesting stories and poems in them.   As a follow-up to my reading I ordered a copy of Boswell’s The Life of Samuel Johnson, and Leo Damrausch’s  The Club, helped me to better understand Boswell, Johnson and the extraordinarily talented men and women of that time.

A Journal of the Plague Year, by Daniel Defoe was an appropriate read as we were sequestered during the pandemic.  Defoe’s book, describing the experiences of 1665, is similar is some parts to our post 2020 experience, but likely has a happier and more satisfying conclusion.

I high recommend The Personal Memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant (annotated edition, 2017).  Grant’s editors told him to write “as though he were speaking to a group of friends after dinner” and he did.

Before my 2020 trip was cancelled I began reading works by Nikolai Gogol, the great Ukrainian writer..  I do not understand his works of fantasy, but the short stories; The Nose, the Government Inspector, The Overcoat are terrific.  His description of the Dnieper River from The Terrible Vengeance:

Fair is the sight from the midst of the Dnieper of the high hills, the broad meadows, and the green forest! Those hills are not hills: they have no foot; they are sharp-peaked at both bottom and top; under them and over them is the tall sky. Those woods standing on the slopes are not woods; they are hair growing on the shaggy head of the old man of the forest. Under it his beard washes in the water, and under his beard and over his hair—the tall sky. Those meadows are not meadows: they are a green belt tied in the middle of the round sky, and the moon strolls about in both the upper and the lower half.

Anne Applebaum’s book, Red Famine, describes Russia’s attempt to starve Ukraine during the 1930’s, when, maybe, 4 million citizens perished.

Reunions

My retirement has been bookended by high school reunions.  In 2012 I attended my 50th and a few weeks ago  I was fortunate enough to still be above ground for my 60th reunion.  The program for the dinner pretty much said it all; on the inside were the names of  attendees and on the back page were names of those classmates that would never be seen again, the deceased.

Many of these folks I have known and attended school with, from grades 1 to 12.  Growing up I had a really good experience.  No mass shootings, lots of positive memories and a massive amount of fun.   One  observes where one is within a group and concludes that there are folks who are taller, better-looking, smarter, can run faster, play sports better, command more respect and have better leadership skills than oneself.  As a youngster, however, you don’t appreciate how wonderful or how cruel life can be in the process of moving us from cradle to grave.

One day in the mid 1960’s a classmate I knew fairly well turned up at my door offered his hand and told me that he was going to die soon and wanted to tell me good-bye, taking a farewell tour like a retiring athlete.

Others died violently, one by self-immolation, another, a preacher’s son, by his own hand after losing wife and child in an accident, yet another, by a rifle bullet through the head fired by a jilted boyfriend.

A boating accident off the coast of Oregon, a pulmonary occlusion, and a fall after a series of head and neck injuries took others.

So, should one have survivor’s guilt or be grateful that, despite the inadequacies you thought you had growing up, you made it further than many who once seemed invincible?  

But, wait, not all is lost.  A close friend, an engineer, who was in danger of becoming a hermit after the death of his parents, traveled to Arizona for a visit with a classmate recently widowed after 40 years of marriage.  After months of courtship, they were married and are starting a new life together.

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.