Identity after retirement.

 

When we retire, who do we become ? How do we describe ourselves when our ‘working’ lives are over? No longer labelled by a profession, or an institutional association, or a corporate title, how do I introduce myself at a party, or any social event after I say my name ? What part of my life do I choose to focus on in conversation? What sartorial choices am I going to make when I get up in the morning to reflect my changed way of life?

What’s going on ? Am I at last free , all other things being equal, to make different choices about how I spend my time ? Is it about giving back – using some of that time to volunteer in my own community or in the wider world? Is it about new learning – reviving dusty holiday French, for instance, or taking an online course in ‘Strategies for successful ageing ‘ through a learning platform like http://www.futurelearn.com  ? Is it about paying more attention to my health and well being, for some of us on the principle of ‘better late than never ‘? For a while, perhaps it’s about travelling – a couple of big trips,  South Africa, Costa Rica, India – and then it’s about settling, or is it? And always it comes back to the new identity – who am I ? After retirement what choices will I make ? Where will I decide to be ? With whom will I want to be ?

Money, the only currency that seemed to matter during the salaried or earning life, while still important, now seems much less important than time .Perhaps for that reason, experiences -the good ones ! seem to be all the more intense and to be more important.

So many questions, so many options, a little less time. As I sat in the garden in the sun this week after a pleasurable long lunch with old friends the talk turned to retirement and someone said , “It’s all about identity now. I am an old man who gardens.” I looked at the vegetables he has grown, the roses and lavender that have flourished under his care this year and thought, ” Yes , that’s true, that’s partly who you are now. And there’s so much more. ”

So I think what I am trying to say is that after retirement life becomes at least as interesting and challenging as it was before ; that getting to know a person means taking a different approach – perhaps through a shared interest, for example. Like decluttering , it’s about letting go and making room for a  new or at least reshaped identity.

What do you think ?

 

What’s another year?

Usually at this time of year I get a little blue, a little down. There are cycles of ending, a need to discard and even shred stuff; energy  is taken up by this exercise that is not left to spare yet for leaping into the new.

This year it feels different . I am making a conscious effort to discard what is not serving me well in my life, and that feels good. The clothes that are still in my wardrobe are being worn. The books that are weighing down my study shelves are being scrutinised to see why they are still gathering dust there -with their microscopic print and yellowing pages, in some cases. The self help books that have not worked will be recycled in case they can help others’ selves. Reading is re-emerging in my life as a pleasure, and I intend to read only what I want to read. How freeing is it not to have to wade through acres of text to get an A4 sheet attesting to the achievement. Can I let go of those gold framed certificates, degrees and diplomas? No longer relevant is how they feel now.

It’s a time for remembering, for calling home, for reconnecting with family and friends. For missing people who were here in the past. For wondering what this New Year will bring -what new opportunities through  being open to change and growth; for realising that every moment is a gift not to be wasted; for giving with grace and receiving with joy all the abundance and blessings that life lived to the full can bring.  Looking forward , not back; dancing to a new tune; not making resolutions I won’t follow through on. Happy New Year!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Witness

 

Recently I was invited to the opening of an exhibition called ‘The White Cottage’ by my friend, the poet and visual  artist  Jo Slade.  The exhibition was housed in a remarkable old building in Limerick called ‘The Sailors’ House’, situated as you might guess, close to the docks, and around the corner from Dolan’s Warehouse. The building itself is fascinating – I think it’s owned by the Harbour Commissioners now and was at one time a Garda station in the city-  it has  been rehabilitated only to the extent that it is still standing and secure but internally the plaster has come off the walls, leaving an unfinished texture, bare stone in fact, and plenty of gaps for the wind to whistle through.

The exhibition opened on the first startlingly cold night we have endured this winter and the cold from the concrete floor came in through the soles of our feet. I began to visit the exhibition haphazardly but as I walked around looking at the images and small sculptures, before I had had a chance to contextualise or read the chapbook of Jo’s poems that accompanied it, the cold came right in . I saw images of people who had lost their identity, their physical identity, their freedom, their very being ; images of death, destruction , incarceration, deprivation – all brought about by the impact of war and the absence of humanity. It was a response to Jo’s experience of having visited Auschwitz-Birkenau in 2007. ‘The White Cottage or the Little White House was the name given to Bunker 2 (originally a woodsman’s-farmer’s cottage ) at Auschwitz-Birkenau . Many women and children were murdered there in 1942,43,44.’ as Jo tells us in the introduction to the poems in her chapbook. It’s a very powerful work which literally knocks the breath out of you .

On the last day Pauline Goggin facilitated a discussion which arose from – perhaps-  reactions to ‘The White Cottage’ exhibition. Other memories of different wars – old (Northern Ireland for example) and new and frighteningly current (the ongoing destruction and displacement in Aleppo.) The word ‘witness’ as both noun and verb was important in the discussion just as it is important in the face of atrocity or in dealing with evil . Is witness enough? I found myself asking. Can witnessing , a form of calling it out, standing up and being there, be enough ? As students , damn nearly a hundred years ago, we thought that it was important to witness by protesting , for example against the University’s investments in South Africa; sleeping out all night at the City Hall in Belfast to protest about the Biafran war; bearing witness to what is wrong and arguing, debating, articulating in the hope of making change happen.

More, so much more, that needs to be done as the world lurches to the right and we close our eyes and our hearts – unless someone calls us out, to witness , to reflect, to remember,  to take action, to open up.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Positively Ageing-my top ten

For the week that’s in it, National Positive Ageing Week, I thought  I’d write about the top ten things that positively ageing means for me, so here goes

  • free from work now – and grateful for the pension !
  • being active – and new opportunities are popping up locally all the time. I’ll never be a ‘gym bunny’ but enjoy walking, aqua aerobics, Pilates, especially as there’s a good deal of social contact involved.
  • a chance to create each day as I want it to be
  • new interests such as art (seeing and doing), getting back to writing, engaging with voluntary work.
  • new friendships developing
  • travel to new places (Turkey, Madrid,Cuba, Vienna, Sweden) for example
  • finding out how to make the changes I want to see in my own life
  • feeling more alive and open to new experiences
  • spending time at home and away with Ed
  • and above all for as long as it lasts TIME a wonderful gift,to enjoy, to experiment,to learn, to relax , to let go of the things that really don’t matter and to cherish the things that do.

Stylish after sixty

Stylish after sixty- hell if you haven’t got a personal style by now are you ever going to get it ? What is that style ? Does it only refer to how you present yourself in the world or is it about how you do things? Other words float in here – elegant, spontaneous, eye catching , colourful, classic , boho, relaxed, comfortable- all relating to the idea of style as a visual, something to do with presentation. There’s a connection to grace, to giving , to generosity too -say it or give it with style.

When I think of style I immediately think of the era that I was born into, the Fifties, just after the austerity of the war years. The New Look was in fashion, introduced by Dior, as were the full skirts that we are seeing in vogue again at the moment. Women going out wore gloves- a lady was never seen without her gloves- and often a small hat perched on the back of their heads. I loved the T.V series ‘Mad Men’ because it evoked  memories I have of my mother , glamourous in a peacock blue evening dress,a matching stole lined with pale pink draped around her shoulders, or wearing a strapless plain black full skirted cocktail dress with rainbow coloured taffeta underskirt, and high heels. That was style to my mind.

Being stylish at any age is being comfortable with yourself above all else.Being stylish after sixty is a little more difficult because the body is sometimes uncomfortable -and complains at being asked to wear for example high heels. You may be making a transition from working life, requiring a ‘smart’ or sometimes rather conservative style of dress, to a more relaxed, everyday, informal way of life-a life style change, which no longer requires a skirt suit, dress and jacket , shirt and tie, for example . Of course that’s all of an another era now too – the line between work and leisure clothes has blurred – not always in a stylish way.

Sometimes that change can be difficult to accomplish with style. and that’s where  the services of  a personal shopper or stylist come in. It’s also worth investing in the services of a good hairdresser  as the right hairstyle  can make a real difference to how you look and feel.

More than anything be true to yourself and cultivate your own unique sense of style. Do what you need to do to feel and be the best you can be – and be good to yourself while you’re at it !

 

Pieta

The stone rolled back,

filled the garden with light

more gentle than sun.

I ached to hold him.

Who had unwrapped the linen

sweet with gardenias

that had spared his eyes in the darkness?

 

The tomb held no fear for me

its white coolness had berthed him safe and calm

after torture and treachery.

I tested its texture smooth on my bare soles

soothing after the long walk out.

I laid my head where his head had lain.

I stretched to fit the length of his form,

 

put my feet in the same hollow

traced the vein of the marble

green as spring sap rising

tasted the salt of tears on my cheek

thought of the angel’s wing on my back

thirty odd years ago.

 

Written some years ago- for the season that’s in it, feels right to share.

Happy Easter !