Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement

Tim H asks:

What’s your dream retirement scenario? Will you carry on writing as long as you can?

I think asking a middle-aged adult what their dream retirement scenario is, is a bit like asking a kid what she wants to be when she grows up: She may have an idea, but that idea is based on her current circumstance and view of the world, which may not apply when she actually grows up. When I was eight, I wanted to be an astronomer. Then at about 13 I realized that math was nothing but confusion to me. Fortunately at 14 I discovered I could write. And what I wanted to do when I grew up changed.

Which is to say that at 46 I don’t know what I will want to do when I’m 70, which seems to me to be my most likely “retirement” age, to the extent that a writer retires at all. I mean, that’s 24 years away, which is a longer amount of time than between the age of 14, when I wrote my first short story — the story that convinced me I should be a writer — and 36, which is when my first novel was published. No offense to the 14 year old, but he couldn’t have possibly imagined what his life would be like at 36. He literally had no idea.

By the same token, I have no idea who I will be at 70 or so, or what my life circumstances will be, so it’s hard to say what will be ideal then. I would like to say I’d be happily on the downslope of a long and prosperous career as a writer, but two and a half decades is a long time from now. Maybe by then they’ll have figured out how to halt aging, I’ll look and feel like I’m 35 and the idea of retiring would just be stupid. I wouldn’t mind that! But who knows? We will see.

That said: The 46 year old me sees the ideal retirement scenario as, simply, one that lets me do what I want to do without worrying about starving. At 46, my needs for “doing anything I want” are relatively simple: I want to see people I like, and write. As I get older I have the urge to travel maybe a bit more than I do, so maybe that will be added onto the schedule. But honestly: Write, see people, maybe travel. That seems doable. What it will require is prudent saving, staying as healthy as possible, and (this is largely not up to me) humanity not destroying itself in a spasm of stupidity. We’ll see what happens in each of these cases.

I don’t really see me retiring from writing, since it’s a thing I like to do even when I’m not getting paid for it. Will I write on the “book a year” schedule I currently hold? I sort of doubt it, but there are a ton of writers at the age of 70 and beyond who crank out books on that schedule, or even faster than that. So, again, who knows? But honestly, the only thing I see keeping me from writing well into my eighth decade and beyond is substantial mental deterioration. I’m hoping that writing on a regular basis will keep that from happening.

Bear in mind that my current retirement scenario — writing, seeing friends, a little travel — bears quite a lot in common with my current life, which in which I write, I am fortunate to see friends, and a travel rather a bit. Which I guess is to say that right now I’d like my retirement life to be like my life. The good news there is, I suspect it’s achievable. I should just keep doing what I’m doing. And, uh, save some money prudently. And maybe take a walk every now and then.

In any event, let’s see what I think when I’m 70.

21 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2015 #7: My Dream Retirement”

  1. I think we should retire when we are young and can enjoy things and work when we are older and have less we want to discover.
    When I retire, I will most likely be the winner of a huge lottery as it stands presently, I will not be able to retire until I fell over dead.
    I would like to travel and write about my travels if I am fortunate to be able to retire one day.

  2. The older I get the more I want to retire overseas. Not to Costa Rica, like so many others but to a decent 1st world liberal democracy (Canada, Scotland, Sweden), or an island affiliated with them. Main reason is I want to live somewhere that is not actively trying to tear itself apart, perhaps in 20 years (when I am 67) this will include the US, but the trend line is not favorable. I want clean, safe streets, good health care and political stability. Why not Costa Rica? I have know a lot of Americans that moved there and generally they are pretentious hippies – I don’t need that in my life.

    I am lucky to have significant savings and a good guaranteed pension so money is not too much of a concern, but my health is probably going to be my biggest problem – it’s never been great.

  3. Most people retire because we physically get tired. Sure we enjoy time off – but we wish we were healthy enough to be as active in our time off as we wish. I expect most artists like their work enough that retirement is simply slowing down the pace of their work.

    For the last couple of years, it appeared that Lois McMaster Bujold had retired. She wasn’t talking about her writing, she cut back on going to conventions, and had health problems associated with age (she’s my wife’s age). But she surprised us by announcing her next book, and I couldn’t be happier. Artists gotta do their art! (and we benefit)

    I wouldn’t expect John Scalzi will be much different here, as he ages.

  4. “When I get older losing my hair
    Many years from now
    Will you still be sending me a valentine
    Birthday greetings, bottle of wine?
    If I’d been out till quarter to three
    Would you lock the door?
    Will you still need me, will you still feed me
    When I’m sixty-four?”
    [Paul McCartney, John Lennon,
    Copyright: Sony/ATV Tunes LLC]

  5. .
    This is not the time nor place to present my sonnet “How Does It Feel to Be 64?”.
    The original question is good, and Mr. Scalzi’s answer is thoughtful.

  6. I get psychologically tested and interviewed every so often for my job (security clearances), and the latest test was one I hadn’t seen before. For well over 50% of the questions, all I could think was “I would have answered THAT differently 30 years ago.” Even at my age (62) the future of retirement is somewhat of a scary unknown; when I was 46, it was much more so.

  7. I would have had no idea at 46 how retirement would pan out – other issues aside it completely surprises you when any expectations you might have had are confounded. The things you do change slowly, when you do them changes radically – if you have to do grocery shopping how much nicer is it to do it when no-one else is doing it (Tuesday mornings are good it seems)! Visiting art galleries on a rainy Wednesday rather than at the weekend gives you more space too.

    On the real plus side, assuming you have a ‘normal’ job, is the sudden cessation of expenditure on work – the clothes, travel, coffees, lunches, after-work drinks and so on. That ‘wage’ you needed for your retirement? Half it – you will survive.

    You do get to really annoy people who, though close to retirement, aren’t yet there. How? Well, the phrase “I don’t know how I found time to work” is absolutely certain to cause meltdown.

    In summary – don’t dream about your retirement, it won’t turn out anything like you expect and, like us, health issues may also affect your plans. Roll with whatever comes your way – it has worked for us for 3 years now and we love it.

  8. My ideal retirement will be roughly 65–70 years from now when they find my body at the keyboard.

    On the screen will be written: “I wonder if the idiot conservatives who denied climate change thought it through to realize that a warmer Earth meant clothing would become optional? Quam mira vita!”

  9. “I’m hoping that writing on a regular basis will keep that from happening.”

    My understanding is that keeping one’s brain active does a lot to stave off at least some forms of dementia. It’s not guaranteed (see Terry Pratchett), but it’s certainly worth going for.

    (Official disclaimer: not a doctor.)

  10. Paul Garbett

    “The things you do change slowly, when you do them changes radically – if you have to do grocery shopping how much nicer is it to do it when no-one else is doing it (Tuesday mornings are good it seems)!”

    You got it. I retired six months ago (although my also-retired wife still calls it semi-retirement), and being able to do all those weekend chores any time of the week is wonderful. In fact, now we try to stay away from stores and entertainment and other things on weekends.

    Oh, retirement after decades of fighting Houston traffic – equally wonderful.

  11. I enjoyed my dream retirement in my late thirties, for all intents and purposes. Even though I was working, all the puzzle pieces fit together, the way I had imagined they would when I was much, much older. Now that I actually am much older, nothing fits. My dream retirement is now sought out on a daily basis, hoping I’ll accidentally stumble upon that vague something, once again, and go off happily into the twilight of my life. Also, I hope it’ll be with a giant bottle of whiskey and a carton of smokes.

  12. Make sure you have invested in long term health care (ie nursing home, etc.) insurance. Never would have dreamed that by the time I was 59 my 61 year old husband would be diagnosed with early onset Alzheimers. Best to be prepared for the unexpected… Maybe in 10 or more years I’ll be able to do some travelling, but I expect most of the savings to be eaten alive by health care costs. Luckily some of my hobbies can become part time jobs…

  13. John, you sound like a high energy person. Keep it up. At some point, your health and body may start limiting your energy and thus your ability to do things. The desire may still be there, but things (pain?) will get in the way. Then again, you may be one of the lucky ones who escapes the usual problems of old age.

    It’s kind of a crap-shoot as to how your body (or mind) changes as you get old. Something like arthritis may become the dominant limit in your life. That could put the kibosh on travel plans, for instance. Where simply taking a plane flight becomes something to be dreaded, rather than anticipated.

    Keep on doing what you enjoy and keep your health up. Quit smoking if you smoke. Do light exercise and keep active and try not to wear your body out. Do some of the fun things now while you are healthy. In your case, it doesn’t sound like you will ever retire. Though you will probably slow down if for no other reason than to try to do more different things you chose to do.

    Have fun. I think you will.

  14. Being a hell of a lot closer to 70 than you and also self employed at a job a love (photography, video), I’d say what you’ve expressed is quite similar to what I’ve wanted out of retirement. With a simple refinement-do what I’m doing now, but without the financial pressure to have to do it.

    It will be nip and tuck, but I’ve got a good chance. You’ve got an even better one as a world famous successful author. Now all you have to do is survive and to that end I will tell you to start making a plan for regular, enjoyable exercise. I joined a gym at 62 and took up rock climbing. Works for me.

  15. I’m 44. I’m unemployed. I’m mentally ill. My superannuation from when I was working (such as it was) has largely dwindled away via administration fees and reduced returns into little dribs and drabs which are accumulating with the Tax Office, and may, on the day I reach retirement age, wind up purchasing a single good quality restaurant meal before we settle down to a retirement of dog food and lentils. The retirement age for my generation has been put up to 70, and will probably only rise. So I’m hoping that some time before I hit retirement age, my partner and I will have been able to purchase a house small enough for us to keep up, on a block large enough to hold a vegetable garden and/or mini-orchard/food forest suitable for 2 people, with enough solar panels to run the fridge, the washing machine, and a computer each, plus a large enough water tank to keep the two of us clean, hydrated, and keep the garden alive too.

    Do I think we’ll get it? It really depends on far too many factors which are completely out of my control (the main one of which is my partner remaining employable – the Australian job market has already decreed I’m unemployable) for me to be comfortable speculating. In the meantime, I’ll keep scrabbling away at the housekeeping, stretching the funds as far as they’ll go, and see about getting together enough money to cover a deposit on something we can afford.

  16. When I retire, I want to join the CDF and get a kick-ass genetically engineered green body with an integrated BrainPal, 2-10 years of adventure, and if I survive, then a reset back to a much earlier incarnation of myself.

    Wait, what do you mean I can’t do that? I feel deceived.

  17. Megpie, I am not a million miles away from your situation; so you have all my sympathy. I probably have it slightly better from a personal standpoint. On the other hand, you live in a somewhat sane country. Hope things improve.

  18. I understand your point, Sir Scalzi. I am three years out from retirement. My ideas for my retirement years, nevertheless, are much the same now as they were when I was your age. I shall travel, read, write poetry, and watch quality television and film. I shall also volunteer in a local charity organization. The only new idea now is that I am considering becoming an ex-patriot taking my retirement dollars to somewhere much cheaper to live as the 1%. I hear you can do that in Quito, Ecquador. And there are others.

  19. I unexpectedly retired last year at age 62, which is a whole other story. But it turns out that with my pension and Social Security I’m bringing in more money than I was making working full time. A pleasant surprise that. I had promised myself that when I retired I would buy myself a puppy, and since I always keep my promises I am now the proud Papa of the best-natured little fuzzy guy I could have imagined. I spend a lot of time walking, grooming and playing with Murphy, and catching up on my web browsing. If I’m not careful I will have to put gas in my car again in a couple of months. Life is good.

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