To Retire or Not To Retire

- by Judy Griffith Gill

To Retire or Not to Retire

Have you ever tried writing with your laptop on a board bridging the valley between your tummy and thighs while your knees are bent? Believe me, it’s possible. It’s also awkward as hell when the boat starts to roll. That’s the point when I spread my legs out flat on the bunk for extra stability, jam my left shoulder into the corner with a bunch of pillows, gulp a Dramamine and hope the boat won’t turn turtle before I hit “save to disk.” It gets even more scary when suddenly the only other person on board—the guy whose sworn duty is to protect my life, my limb (well, okay, limbs, I do have more than one) and even more important, my computer, appears in the aft cabin, having left that all essential steering-station wherein lies every piece of our precious equipment like radar, sonar, compass, and fuel-gauges along with his steady hands on the wheel, and says in an urgent tone, “Honey!”

I look up, fingers freezing on the keyboard, fully expecting him to say something along the lines of “abandon ship”, but all he does is a “click” from the camera, resulting in a totally revolting photo he insisted be entitled “Writer at Work While on Vacation.” It is not a pretty sight, despite my decision to let people know I really am old, and not even making a hint of a stab at doing so gracefully, here’s a picture that’s probably just as telling, but not nearly so obnoxious. It’s entitled “Mature Writer Aging Well But Hardly Gracefully.”

Which brings me to the real subject of this little blog: As we writers age, when should we retire? Or should we retire at all? When I finally realized I was of a pensionable age, because people began sending me not one, but two pension checks each month, I began to wonder: was I taking up writing space better suited to the smart young things of 29 (the age I was when I sold my first book) whose work might be better understood by smart young editors who are around that same age and often a lot younger. I also began to wonder if run-on sentences were a sign of aging, but let’s leave that alone for now.

I discussed this aging issue with several other authors of, shall we say, “a certain age” or perhaps “developing a set number of new wrinkles per annum” or even “tipping slightly over the edge and wearing weird hats” and the consensus appears to be that retirement is not an option until we develop Alzheimer’s or some other form of age-related dementia to the degree that having written “Once Upon a Time” we sit and stare at the blank screen and wonder who wrote those words and why, and if there’s a point to sitting there staring at that screen with those four words on it and go have a drink of wine, instead. The consensus was each of us was different and we’d all recognize the time when retirement was mandatory. Or, on the other hand, we simply feel like retiring, taking lots of naps and having many, many glasses of wine. Because, of course, by that stage, we won’t remember how many we’ve already had.

In the spirit of fairness I confess I made a conscious decision to quit writing. To retire. To lie on my bunk, sans computer, or even with it but playing Solitaire, and let the Dramamine send me off into gentle slumber. I did retire. Honestly! I retired for seven hours, thirteen minutes and nine seconds. It felt really good for the first six of those hours. I smiled a lot. I got off my bunk and looked at the spectacular fiord scenery surrounding our boat. I sat steadfast beside my skipper on the command bridge. I even looked at a beautiful bald eagle soaring over the blue waves which had pretty white lace on top of each one. Then, before I could prevent it, right above the blue & white water, as the eagle soared higher into the blue sky, it unfurled a banner—I kid you not, just like one of those planes that tow a streamer saying “Jane! Will you marry me?”—my eagle developed a banner that did not go splat on the bow of the boat, but said, “Once Upon a Time . . .”

Damn her or his white-feathered head, I was forced to sidle away from the skipper who asked where I was going. I told him “to pee.” Not true! Three and a half hours later, with about eight pages following the eagle’s “Once Upon a Time” trick, I became aware that the engines had slowed, the rocking of the boat had ceased, and my skipper was hollering, “Honey!” Which meant I had to get off my bunk, store my computer safely, and go do the deckhand thing, scurrying up to the steering station and following hand signals while the skipper set the anchor.

I did all that, then went back, got my computer and began to write about eagles with white heads and how they should retire because if they weren’t old, they shouldn’t have white heads. Then I went into the bathroom, which on the boat we call, inexplicably, “The Head”, took out my Lady Clairol “Copper-Gold” and decided that as long as my head wasn’t as white an eagle’s, as long as an eagle could inspire me to write, I was absolutely not going to retire. That, in my opinion, is strictly for the birds–the bald-headed ones, so I’m still writing. 

My next book, available right now, is a HOT rerelease of a former Loveswept, originally titled “Golden Warrior” but now rewritten, spiced up, and e-published as GOLDEN DREAMS, by www.belgravehouse.com

12 comments

  1. Why retire as long as your muse still whispers in your ear–or the eagle flies?

  2. Great post, Judy. I don’t intend to stop writing until I’m so old I can no longer hold a pencil or have a coherent thought.

  3. You’re right, Estella. That eagle may well have been squirting out something from its nether end, but to me it looked like “once upon a time”, and as long as that happens, I guess I keep on writing.

    Thanks for visiting the Ninc blog site.

    Judy

  4. Thanks, Phoebe, glad you enjoyed the blog and hope you keep coming back for more, every day, something new. It keeps us on our toes, this writing thing, so even if your hands grow ancient, gnarled and arthritic, maybe you’ll still be able to hold that pencil in your toes.

    Best,

    Judy

  5. I’ll stop writing when they pry the keyboard from my dead fingers. My grandfather lived to 100. In his 70’s, he bought a typewriter and started pecking away and kept at it until his late 90’s. He was a frequent correspondent of lots of people and enjoyed writing long letters on his typewriter which now resides in my study. The longevity gene is in my family so I figure I have plenty of time and plenty of words left.

  6. Good for you, Joan, and congratulations to your grandpa! I come from a long line of long-lived women (the men not all faring as well), so I imagine my writing days are pretty much unlimited as far into the future as I can see. I’ve always said I want to die with my face on my keyboard having just wrapped up the sexiest closing scene ever written.

  7. It took me most of my adult life (to date) to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up, and I figure, since I sold my first book three and a half years ago, that if I put as many years in my writing as I did on the coal face of other jobs then retirement is still going to be absolute ages away. Mind you, I don’t think writers can ever really stop writing. It’d be like flicking off your imagination switch permanently and what would life be worth without imagination?

  8. You’re right, Yvonne. Life without imagination would be… death and I really prefer to stay alive and keep my mind the same way. Sometimes, though, I wish I could flick it off when I want to get to sleep. Just temporarily, of course.

    Judy

  9. LOL, Judy, great post.

    I have no idea when I’ll stop writing, seeing as it’s taking me an extraordinarily long time to move from selling to micro- and small presses/publishers to one of the big dogs. Once I’m there, I’ll feel duty bound to stay awhile. Besides, I fear for my sanity if I were to retire. My family fears for my sanity NOW.

    Anyway, 100 is the new 90, and considering my grandfather lived to over 106 and only became decrepit at 105, I have a long way to go before I need to consider such things. My eyes will probably give out and THEN I’ll retire.

  10. Cindy, if your family didn’t fear for your sanity, you’d probably be a dentist or something innocuous like that. It’s being on the verge of nutso that keeps us writing. I think. If my eyes give out, I plan to hire someone to make sure my fingers are on the right keys. Long live touch-typing!

    Judy

  11. Retire from writing? Is it possible when the muse–stubborn child–refuses to age along with you?

    That you actually retired for “seven hours, thirteen minutes and nine seconds” is a testament to your will power, Judy!

    Write on!

  12. Thanks, E.C.

    I think what I have in not “will” power, but “won’t” power. Or, maybe I should say my brain has it. It just won’t quit.

    Judy