Reply to Stanley Fish’s Opinionator piece in today’s Times

Well, Professor Fish, I guess I do qualify, as one of those strangers of a certain age* (81 in August of this year) to whom you now turn. And I do know something about retirement. In a very real sense I’ve always, or nearly always been retired. I did hold down a few college and secondary school teaching positions for a few years, in the sixties. But I really wasn’t there. I didn’t believe in what I was doing. Or rather I didn’t believe that if someone really wanted to learn (and there weren’t many of these, or at least ones that I recognized at the time) he had any need of me. For most of his learning, as well as most of mine throughout my life, had or has had little to do with anyone else. “Your favorite teacher?” for the life of me I couldn’t now if you asked me name him or her.

More formal “retirements” have occurred twice in my life, in 1992 when I left the school that my wife and I had founded in 1972 in order to homeschool our own children. Then in 2007 when I left the Foundation where I had been a grant maker. So now, yes, I’m retired in the most conventional sense of the word. I tend my cabbages, I write blog pieces that I post on my (about 700 of them since 2008), and I play with my young grandchildren (don’t try to school them, for if there is one thing I’ve learned in my life it’s that you can’t).

But to more directly answer your questions regarding retirement before which you are hesitant. Perhaps you’ve always been well connected, to others, to your books, to your colleagues, and retirement may very well threaten these and other connections. In my case I never had these connections, except in the most superficial sense. I’ve always been solitary so a solitary retirement represented nothing new and different. In any case, if it’s of any interest/help to you this stranger whom you would now address is enjoying immensely his retirement. Why? Because there is no more pretense about our species not being alone, not dying alone. This realization ought to come to all of us, and if it hasn’t happened before it probably will during the retirement years. So retirement may be the real facing up to what we are, and in my case I like it.

Maybe if this conversation were to continue, if a new connection were made, I’d have much to share with you about the fate of my books, that is the books I own, not those (of which there are none at all) that I’ve written.

These books, “my books,” are still with me, on my IKEA book shelves, thousands of them, representing most of the periods of my earlier life. I’ve thought about selling them as you did, but the time and effort it would take to do so always stops me cold, and they remain where they are.

It’s true, I don’t like the thought of what will happen to all these dear friends after I’ve gone and I would much rather think they were, as your books, well established on the shelves of their new owners. Why contribute, I say to myself, to their being forgotten and eventually destroyed by neglect, when I could do something now?

Philip Waring

*To read the piece by Mr. Fish go HERE.

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