Out of the Woods / In retirement, work can be a way of life
Published 7:05 am, Monday, July 11, 2011
Westport author A.E. Hotchner's recent Op Ed piece in The New York Times recalling the 50th anniversary since his friend and fellow writer, Ernest Hemingway, committed suicide, caught my eye because it offered some additional insight into that club of strange breed of creative characters to which I belong -- writers.
Hotchner described that period late in Hemngway's life when he was unable to write anymore for a variety of reasons. Here's the passage in that column that got to me:
"I told him to relax or even retire," Hotchner wrote.
"Retire?" Hemingway replied. "Unlike your baseball player and your prizefighter and your matador, how does a writer retire? No one accepts that his legs are shot or the whiplash gone from his reflexes. Everywhere he goes, he hears the same damn question: what are you working on?"
Hotchner then wrote: "I told him he never cared about those dumb questions."
Hemingway: "What does a man care about? Staying healthy. Working good. Enjoying himself in bed. "
Hotchner's column was more about how Hemingway went into a deep, introspective freeze because he had an awful fear that FBI agents were after him for some tax issues.
I can feel sorry for Hemingway, a great writer. And I can identify with Hemingway's impatience with the word "retire" when all a writer wants to do is write. It's as simple as that. I, too, am often asked, as a writer, "What are you working on?"
Actually, I don't mind the question. I rather welcome it. To me it means that people I know assume that I am still working. For me that's the key word. Of course, I am often advised (unsolicited) to quit working and "smell the flowers." My reply to that is, "I do -- every time I bring some home to my wife."
On the other hand, I know what I am missing and that does not especially bother me. I hear a lot about life in retirement from my favorite news sources -- in the locker room at the YMCA -- and most of it is about the Y's Men, the Senior Center, taking trips with other retirees and their spouses or "significant others," golf, tennis, golf, restaurants, grandchildren, aches and pains, "recent "procedures" ("operation" is a no-no), who died when and from what, movies, the stock market, and all kinds of stories about traveling to exotic places.
Wait. There's more.
National sex and political scandals, Barack Obama and what he's doing right or wrong, the Yankees, the Mets, Roger Clemens and his trial for use of steroids, Derek Jeter, senior housing on Baron's South, sprucing up downtown, a new movie theater in Westport, volunteer activities such as working at Norwalk Hospital and other worthwhile institutions, the Westport Public Library and its emergence as the town's cultural center and lots more.
To be honest, I do enjoy many of these pastimes -- but they are definitely secondary to my work. It has always been that way. I guess that is a mixed blessing. For this reason, I am often called (to my face) a "workaholic." I plead guiltily.
What I rarely hear is anything about what one of my fellow macho-men are doing in terms of "work" -- that is extending their careers by continuing to do what they did for a living, or finding a new way to put their talents to productive, profitable use.
Work is deemed a negative, something you should have left behind in your overrated "golden years." To be totally honest, I get my jollies from finishing a column like this one. Even better, when someone writes in and disagrees with me. Please do. I like a good, constructive intellectual challenge -- from a distance.
In this respect, I am reminded of something Joseph Pulitzer, the famous newspaper editor, after whom the Pulitzer Prize is named. He looked at the newspaper profession this way:
"Here is the most fascinating of all professions. The soldier may wait forty years for his recognition. Most lawyers, most physicians, most clergymen die in obscurity, but every single day opens new doors for the journalist who holds the confidence of the community and has the capacity to address it."
I consider myself most fortunate to have fallen in love with the newspaper business when I was taking a course in the print shop of my high school more than six decades ago. From that I got interested in the words I was setting in hot lead type on an old linotype machine. They just leaped off my typewriter onto paper. And they have been leaping ever since.
Some call it work. I call it my hobby for life -- and that means no "retirement" if I am fortunate to be able to continue as long as my mind and my fingers are still working in sync.
Woody Klein's "Out of the Woods" column appears each Wednesday.