Plaguetime 18: NOBODY EVER SAID ON THEIR DEATH BED, “I WISH I’D SPENT MORE TIME AT THE OFFICE…”


It seems that the benefits that are supposed to be had from ‘retirement’ – ‘the never-ending weekend’… ‘freedom and rest…after decades of hard work’ – are not to be thought of as inevitable. Poor health and ‘decline in cognitive functioning…’ seem to be associated with retirement, though not, of course, for everybody, according to Ross Andel, gerontology researcher, who is the director of the School of Aging Studies at the University of South Florida in Tampa. I’ve just read a short article about his research.

Certainly it’s not the case that I’ve suffered in any way from retirement probably because I’ve never had the belief that life is about ‘work’! To make sure that everybody realises that life is not work but attention to the things that really matter, I’d advocate that planning for the idea of retirement should start taking place when you’re about ten years of age. Working for other people to make money is a distraction from life, not a necessity.

Something now has to be done to counteract authoritarian regimes from increasing the official retirement age. Why would they want to do that? To keep our noses to the grindstone so we don’t have the time to notice what powerful self-serving frauds they are. There should be a campaign to push for retirement at 50 – or even 40.

As I used to say, after the man himself, when running Stephen Covey Seven Habits courses: nobody ever said on their death bed, “I wish I’d spent more time at the office…”

Anyway, Ross Andel has looked at data collected from older adults going through the work-to-retirement transition from 2001 to date: ‘…every four years, participants answer questions about their health, circumstances and lifestyle and complete a number of tests that gauge memory, speed of thinking, verbal abilities and other cognitive skills…’ It seems that there’s a decline in speed of processing, that is ‘…how quickly we can make sense of information we’re given… If people take longer to process information, they’re more likely to forget it; they’re also more likely to get confused…’ All this depends on ‘healthy brain network’…

One of the tests Andel describes in a TED talk is to give people random sets of words to remember and then test recall every four years, presumably given them the same set of words on each occasion. He found that those still in work at 77 lost less remembering capability than those who had retired. Some of the memory loss is obviously attributable to natural brain decay but one does have to wonder what purpose anybody would have in committing a random set of words to ‘memory’. In any case, it’s quite wrong to regard ‘memory’ as a receptacle – it’s a reconstructive process and one needs a system for constructing things in the first place. Lacking a mental system one just might not bother to recall anything. I’m sure he knows this really: with reference to the way the brain works he acknowledges the need for a sense of purpose.

He rightly suggests a way of keeping the remembering system going: the more information that travels through the synapses between the axon of one neuron and the dendrite of another the more the synapses are oiled. Going from one way of being (‘working’) to another (‘living the life of Reilly’) the synapses will not get oiled in the same way. We need another activity to replace that which we were used to. Interestingly, for him, ‘…people who have volunteered to take part in the study appear to experience less cognitive decline than those who don’t…’ He tends to think that it’s ‘…about routine and individual sense of purpose…’!

I think that many people probably don’t even have an idea of what a ‘sense of purpose’ might be. Developing the notion of a sense of purpose would be part of the retirement part of the curriculum for ten-year-olds.

I well remember that for the first fortnight of my very early retirement in 1992 I drifted around mentally having lost the focus of organising college lecturing and spreading what I regarded as intellectual ideas to my colleagues – I was never sure they thought of it like that! One day sitting on the lawn at home just before lunchtime I decided that ‘drifting’ was not what I’d retired for. I listened to some Mendelssohn string quartets and started regular writing and (unrigorous) planning.

Andel points out that regions in the world where there’s a greater number of residents who’ve reached the age of 100 and beyond they all have an identifiable sense of purpose. A sense of purpose and intention, whatever it might be, gives meaning to life. As Sartre points out the only thing that prevents us from descending into hopeless absurdity, the meaninglessness of human existence, is to develop ‘projects’. What’s your project?

It could be anything from determining to compose music, working with the grandkids one way or another, motorbiking round the country, reading novels of favourite authors and writing about them, playing chess, making model aeroplanes, building a narrow gauge railway in the garden… Making sure to decide on the next day’s activity before you go to bed. Raising your arms to the sunrise just before dawn!

Andel suggests the pretty obvious: ‘…instead of thinking of retirement as a permanent holiday, it might be more helpful to perceive it as a time of personal renaissance. We could see our post-work life as a wonderful opportunity to reinvest in things that truly matter to us. We can take on that hobby we always wanted to have. We could decide to re-engage with our family or friends, maybe in a brand-new or more complete way…’

Since 1992, I have made more friends than I ever had before. I have written many more poems and general thinking scrawls than ever before. I have made music, built summer houses and rock gardens. I have made quite a lot of money out of independent teaching. I have designed and taught my own courses at home. I have handmade more than 10,000 paperback books both for other people and myself – I’ve lost count of the actual number but I’ve published over 200 books in thirty years at an average, say, of fifty books an individual publication. Since 2010 I’ve written 265 Globs in my WordPress Website – some of them very long (this – the 266th – is comparatively short!).

I’ve had bum cancer and two hip replacements, broken ribs and dislocated a shoulder but I’m not at all sure that my mental faculties are that much impaired. But how would I know? It’s like the man sitting opposite me on the train to Shanghai said, “If I’m using my brain to determine whether I’m still thinking like I used to how will I know whether I am or not?”

Perhaps I should volunteer to be a member of Andel’s study…

It’s possible, I suppose, that the outcome of the study is already determined: he’s been told to discover that retirement is not good for you by the Boss Class and the Austerity Merchants so that they have a concrete reason to keep people’s noses to the grindstone till they drop and, what’s more, save all that waste of money paying out pensions. I couldn’t wait to escape from Wage Slavery and it amuses me to consider that I’ve been retired for nearly thirty years, collecting the money as I pass GO.

What’s really important is to slough off the idea that life is about working. By about 10 o’clock on the day (January 23rd 1955) I started work in Charing Cross Income Tax Office, on the 6th floor Manfield House in the Strand, London, I wondered what it would be like on the day I retired.

Manfield House in 1948 – it’s been grossly tarted up now…

It didn’t seem such a very long time before I found out, though quite a lot did happen in between!

16 thoughts on “Plaguetime 18: NOBODY EVER SAID ON THEIR DEATH BED, “I WISH I’D SPENT MORE TIME AT THE OFFICE…”

  1. it’s quite wrong to regard ‘memory’ as a receptacle – it’s a reconstructive process and one needs a system for constructing things in the first place.

    Yes indeedy – now where did I put that?…

    ‘regions in the world where there’s a greater number of residents who’ve reached the age of 100 and beyond they all have an identifiable sense of purpose. A sense of purpose and intention, whatever it might be, gives meaning to life. As Sartre points out the only thing that prevents us from descending into hopeless absurdity, the meaninglessness of human existence, is to develop ‘projects’. What’s your project?’

    Most people who live in these regions have a physical way of life and garden for self sufficiency and eat the food they produce. They DON’T over eat or go to the gym! OR run About all over the place. They have balance and don’t strive for stuff but instead nurture relationships and set aside time to do so.

    My “project” is to be present as much as I can be and to enjoy and be thankful for what I have rather than striving for anything more. And to notice and be curious.

    Funnily enough yesterday my Son (aged 41) asked me what I thought kept me so young, without missing a beat I said undoubtedly Grandchildren and curiosity.

    The physical aspect of life includes growing veggies and gardening generally and playing football with my now 9 year old Grandson, or Table tennis with the 15 year old who both seem astounded at my abilities. I suppose the lower the expectation the greater the surprise! Occasionally I can not be seen flinging myself around the room to a piece of music – enveloped and inspired and otherwise in it and it in me. I do do other things too, but they are all part of the same thing in various ways. Years ago I defined my purpose and experience of myself as that of being a catalyst and facilitator, I became aware of that not through intention, but by retrospective self observation. Both have had many aspects and manifestations of themselves over the years, but they all boil down to these two abstractions. (Sorry Colin).

    I so love the idea of beginning to plan retirement at the age of 10! I must start with the 9 year old sooner than I thought.

    Thanks again 😉

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Pat – I’m delighted that you think planning for retirement should start at the age of ten. We ought to start an institute before somebody else gets hold of the idea!

    I’ve been flogging the idea that there’s no such thing as MEMORY since 1966 when I came across the idea that it should always (as with all abstractions) be converted from a noun to a verb – a reconstructive process – in IML Hunter’s MEMORY (1957) I’ve had countless numbers of students doing my exercises that prove it! I’ve hardly changed at all since I was about 5. Battered old blue Pelican book.

    ‘My “project” is to be present as much as I can be and to enjoy and be thankful for what I have rather than striving for anything more. And to notice and be curious…’ SNAP +

    🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. In A History of How We Spend Our Time” Anthropologist James Suzman examines our dysfunctional relationship with work and questions our spurious identification with being “workers.”

      The book is an examination of our relationship with work – he concludes – the problem is a “very simple set of assumptions about human nature, which are clearly and demonstrably wrong.”

      He contrasts modern western society with the Bushmen of the eastern Kalahari – he sites a paper from 1966 and says “The Ju/’hoansi were found to be well nourished and living long, content lives. they used the bulk of their time to rest, or have fun. Expert foragers, they spent 15 hours a week finding food, stored little for the future, trusting in the surrounding desert to provide when they required. Any individual surpluses were redistributed among the group. With social sanctions for selfishness and self-importance, their economy functioned in such a way as to eradicate inequality and material desires. Anthropologists concluded that the Ju/’hoansi worked almost exclusively to meet their immediate needs, beyond which their wants were few.”

      Just saying …. 🤷‍♀️

      Required reading perhaps at the very least.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. According to our capitalist masters, we are supposed to thrive on what they call ‘work’ – in a Glob sometime ago I referred to some characters who had done research to show that the retirement age should be put off indefinitely in order to increase the sum of human happiness. I’d say the problem is the way they have us brain-washed into the idea that we need to ‘work’ (for them, of course) and their pre-suppositions about human nature. I’ll have to get hold of the Suzman book. Thanks, Pat. It sounds certain to feed my (prejudiced) way of thinking.

        When I do think about it, I can see that my wondering after just an hour ‘working’ for the Inland Revenue in 1955 meant that I missed out all the years between then and 1992 as far as ‘work’ was concerned. My focus was always on other-than-work. When I became a teacher of sorts I never actually did anything that didn’t fit my Other-than-work-I.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Colin – I’m hoping it might be a route to a different way of thinking – into acting rather than “they” bashing. Which I and my kids do quite a lot of. It lets off steam, and there does seem to be a lot of steam to let off at the moment, but in itself changes nothing in any positive way.

        What are the opportunities here? For me; for my by now adult children and my grandchildren.

        “There has to be more to life than this” – don’t you think? Rhetorical of course.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Stephen Nachmanovitch

    ” We (modern Western people) have developed a high regard for the idea of purpose. Design a plan or proposal, and then execute it. But this is not how nature works, and not how most learning actually occurs. It is not how spontaneous, unscripted creativity works — which is the greater part of the world’s music, poetry, art and invention.Improvising is the front door to thinking as nature thinks: not with narrowly deliberate purpose but as part of an organic whole that evolves and learns.”

    This is what is posted on my refrigerator reminding me how to serve a higher form of energy.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. I’ve ordered the Suzman book from ABE…

        I think we have to be clear about the machinations of our Capitalist Masters. It’s certainly a waste of energy engaging in mere ‘bashing’ but a ‘different way of thinking’ happens in a context!

        Did I send you a copy of ‘There Must Be More to Life Than This’…?

        Like

      2. Yes thank you Colin you did.

        I have no doubt about the intention behind the machinations of our Capitalist Power Pushers – It’s just how to change the group think I am not clear about when there has been so much brain washing to sublimate us to the God of Stuff.

        For the first time I feel my time is too short.

        However – it all depends…

        Liked by 1 person

  4. Changing the group-think ! I think I started trying to do this when I was ten. I can hear my mum’s old mum re-assuring her by saying, “Don’t worry about him – he’ll have settled down by the time he’s 30…” I’m still waiting to be 30. Perhaps it will happen tomorrow or the next day…

    Liked by 1 person

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