Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Retire? I'm just getting started!

by Sandra Parshall

A neighbor who just turned 100 asked me what I expect to be doing when I’m 100.

My answer? Writing, of course. At whatever age I reach ultimately, I hope I’ll still be killing people on the page and sending villains to a just punishment.

Novelists don’t retire in any conventional sense. We don’t decide that on a certain date we will walk away from our jobs forever. Nobody holds parties for retiring novelists and presents them with gold watches.

We may be involuntarily retired by illness, but only afterward do we look back and realize that A Particular Novel was our last. We’re likely to wish desperately that we’d known, so we could have made it better, more worthy of the honor of being a swan song.

The same is true for most creative people, who continue to paint or sculpt or create music into advanced old age, as long as their general health and mental state permit. Studies have shown that keeping our minds active and having work to do helps us live longer and more satisfying lives. Furthermore, the non-creative public expects artists of all stripes to go on producing their art, whatever it is, until they slam into that immovable object called death. Admirers are mystified when somebody simply stops for no discernable reason and drops out of sight.

I started thinking about all this while reading an article about Billy Joel in the May 26 issue of The New York Times Magazine. Maybe you saw Joel perform during the Hurricane Sandy relief concert, but you haven’t seen him on any other stage recently. At 64, he’s retired. After finishing a 2010 tour with Elton John that left him literally crippled by pain, Joel had double hip replacement surgery, and he feels fine now, but he has no desire to return to an active performing career. He gave up recording long ago: he hasn’t released an album in 20 years. He lives a quiet life in Sag Harbor with his dogs, his motorcycles, and his current girlfriend.

A lot of people seem puzzled when a celebrity chooses to give up the glamorous trappings of life in the spotlight. But if you read what Joel says about it, that life will seem much less desirable. He couldn’t enjoy an evening out with the woman in his life because he was constantly approached by fans. He couldn’t take his daughter to an amusement park or do any number of other ordinary things most people take for granted. Now he’s “an oldies act” who isn’t popular with today’s kids, and the longer he stays away from performing, the closer to normal his life becomes. He still writes music because he still has the creative urge, but it’s not rock music anymore. His term for the Rolling Stones, Pete Townsend, Paul McCartney, and others in their 60s and 70s who still perform is “rocking-chair rockers.”

Writing is an easier career than popular music for older people, as long as our minds stay sharp. We’re encouraged to get out and about and meet readers, but public appearances aren’t strictly necessary. Our publishers want us to do Facebook and Goodreads, but no one expects us to dance around a stage and destroy our hip joints by leaping off pianos. Only super-famous authors are recognized in public and treated like celebrities. Most writers can live perfectly ordinary lives while thousands of people are reading what we write.

Some authors don’t even begin their writing careers until they get the kids out of the house or retire from other jobs and, at last, have time to follow their hearts’ desire. Many – like myself – write for years before we finally get a toehold in the publishing world. Others my age may be settling into a life of leisure, but don’t talk to me about retiring – I’m just getting started!

What are you planning to do with your golden years? Relax – or pursue a long-deferred dream?

(And be honest: do you think it’s time for Mick Jagger, who will turn 70 in July, to hang it up?)


Kath Marsh said...

Retire? No. With fingers crossed for my first book contract, I can't stop writing or hoping. My husband retired two years ago. His new doctor asked me if I was retired too. I said, "NOOOOO!"

Judy Alter said...

I wrote all the years I had a day job but it's so much more satisfactory now that I've retired from the 9-5 routine. I can't imagine what I'd do with my days if I gave up writing. People sometimes ask me when I'm going to move out of my house--can't imagine that either.

Kate Gallison said...

Every time another publisher told me they didn't want my work anymore they said, "I hope you'll keep writing." Tell you what, I'll still be writing when they're no longer publishing. Maybe nobody will be reading.

Alice Duncan said...

I'd love to retire and just hang out with the hounds and friends and travel and eat out and stuff like that. I can't AFFORD to retire. So I keep writing and editing. In truth, if I had Mick Jagger's money, I might still write . . . but maybe not. I'm sooooo tired. It the money that keeps me going. How crass, huh?

Jeri Westerson said...

No retirement for this family. The both of us have to work till we drop. Hubby is counting on me to bring in the big bucks. Like I said, he'll be working till he drops.

Leslie Budewitz said...

At 54 and 59, we have no desire to retire -- we feel like we finally have the freedom to explore the creative work that's so long been on the back burner. And that, I think -- hope, plan -- will keep us vital for a long time!

Performers do have to make some concessions: we saw Elton John, now 66, and he didn't bounce around the stage anymore, but also, he'd rearranged some of his songs so that one of the band members sang the high parts he's no longer comfortable with. Others do that, too.

Linda Rodriguez said...

I'm with you, Sandra. It took me so long to break into the business that I'll keep going until they carry me out in a box. Good blog!

Sandra Parshall said...

Young writers may have an edginess that's appealing, but older writers have life experience that makes our writing richer. Many writers are published for the first time in middle age (Louise Penny, for example) and continue to publish for many years. It's a great job for an older person -- and so much easier on the joints than performing rock music.

Joanne Guidoccio said...

Five years ago, I retired from teaching and launched my second act as a writer. Loving every minute and have no intention of retiring.

Patricia Stoltey said...

I didn't start writing seriously until I retired from real world work. The nice thing about my retiree status is the ability to pick and choose what I work on, genre-hop when I wish, and write as much or as little as I want.

And yes, I still feel as though I'm just getting started (and practically starting over because I recently switched from writing amateur sleuth mysteries to standalone mystery and suspense).

Patricia K. Batta said...

Being a low energy person, I didn't start serious pursuit of my writing career until I retired at age 57 from other work, having told myself I was going to retire at 55 and spend the second half of my life writing. So, does 114 sound ok? At going on 72, I do get a little tired now and then, which unfortunately leads me to slack off on promotion. But writing? Never.

Steven M. Moore said...

Hi Sandra,
I'll echo the general sentiment here with two points: (1) while it's possible to participate in the writing life while still holding another job by stealing moments, writing on napkins, etc, it sure is nice to have the freedom to write full-time; (2) writing is one of the best ways to keep the mind sharp and remain creative without the stresses of that day job, even if it was creative work too. I generally say that I haven't retired--I just changed careers!

Sally Carpenter said...

I read a recent article by Toni Tenille (The Captain and Tenille) in which she says they're "retired" because life on the road is so physically and mentally exhausting. Many celebrities who have "been there, done that" and who don't need a constant ego boost find that the rigors of touring are not worth the effort. But the surviving Monkees, David Cassidy and Peter Noone are all in their late 60s and still performing, although at a more "relaxed" schedule that in their younger years. Paul McCartney still loves giving shows. He once said, "What would I do? Sit around the house and watch telly?" If the arts helps to keep a person young at heart and sharp of mind, I say, go for it!

Valerie Horowitz said...

I work full-time as an editor and write in stolen hours-- mostly early mornings. I can't wait to retire so I can write full-time. My first book will be self-published right around, if not on, my 58th birthday. It's interesting to compare Billy Joel, who has had issues with addiction and perhaps depression, to Paul McCartney, whose life in the limelight is full of activity, untroubled by hounding fans. A friend of mine was walking through the lobby of her NYC dentist's office not long ago and Paul McCartney walked in with his wife, gave her a big smile and a warm hello. HE made eye contact with her, HE greeted her, a complete stranger. She said he beamed happiness and joy, "lit up the room" like the old cliche. He's an inspiration to us all to embrace life, not hide from it.

L.J. Sellers said...

Even if I move on from writing novels to writing something else or establishing an entirely new career (such as running a charity or political office), I don't ever see myself retiring from a productive/active/public life.

Anonymous said...

I hope to be writing more (and lots faster) the older I get. Love this topic.

My goal is to live to at least 105 but at the speed I'm getting going I need to live longer.

Do you remember that wonderful picture in Upton Sinclair's autobiography of him with all of his books, quite a stack? Have any of you posed with yours like that yet?

I think that most happy retirees really find something they love and maybe what they would have done if they could have earlier. Don't you?

--Brenda, not yet finished with book 1

Kay Kendall said...

The last year of my regular job was like doing time. The day my pension was good enough, I was outta there. I had once thought I loved my PR career, but now I know what true love is...full-time writing.

I vote for Mr. Jagger to quit and Mr. McCartney to rock on forever.

Steven M. Moore said...

To Anonymous,
Times have changed: hard to pose with a stack of ebooks. But you make a valid point, echoing others: always go for the next book! When there is no next book, I'll be dead.