Retire, Unretire or Keep Working

Jane Bryant Quinn is a well known financial journalist who writes about personal finance. Her books and columns are about investor protection, health insurance, Social Security, and the sufficiency of retirement plan. Now 80, she is retiring.

I read a farewell article by her in the AARP magazine (Yes, I do read my AARP magazine) and I thought it would be interesting to see how someone who has been advising others about retirement would handle her own retirement. Obviously, she didn’t stop working at 67, but her phase one plan surprised me.

“After all these years of reporting and writing about how to prepare for retirement, I’m trying it myself…My husband retired last year and, just as I’ve advised in my columns, we’ve had many, many conversations about what to do with our time. To start, we’re going to follow a dream and live in Rome for a year. Art. Music. Gelato!”

I believe I am in unretirement (not a term I coined). That is when you have ended your full-time career but continue to work: a) when you want to work b) only at things you enjoy doing  c) either paid or unpaid.

For me, the key phrase in her article is “After Rome, my calendar is blank.” That’s a brave thing to say about retirement – especially for someone who has spent a good part of her life advising people about how to plan their future.

My friend Pat decided after retirement to sell her house and car and move to Florence for a year. I’ll confess that I was far more apprehensive/frightened about her going to Italy to live than she was about this adventure. I know that it’s not something I can do – both because of circumstances and because it scares me too much.

What will Pat do when she comes back to the U.S.? (I’m assuming she will come back.) That’s not determined.  Maybe she should go to Rome and visit Jane. It’s not that Quinn doesn’t have any plans:  “I’ll have to invent a life for myself. It’s challenging and not a little unnerving. I’ll spend more time with family and friends, do more reading and more jigsaw puzzles. Then I’ll see what comes my way.”

Quinn made a lot of money telling us how to manage our money in bestsellers like Making the Most of Your Money, Everyone’s Money Book and How to Make Your Money Last.  Notice a theme there? Money, money, money.

I know that having money in retirement is a major concern for people, but I don’t think it should be the number one concern.

I know people who have retired, have adequate money and are unhappy. Why? The most common reason seems to be because “I don’t know what to do with myself.”

Looking at retire in Merriam-Webster online I found lots of definitions. Most of them bring no joy. The etymology goes back to Middle French retirer, from re- + tirer meaning “to draw.” (My French-speaking wife tells me that nowadays the word used is retraiter, meaning both to retire as from a job or as in an army retreating.)

From the mid-1500s the meaning had nothing to do with retirement as we think of it today because no one got to retire from their work. You worked until you either couldn’t work anymore or until you died.

The word doesn’t have very positive connotations: reserved, shy, secluded (as in a retired village), to withdraw, to retreat (from action or danger, or for privacy or to sleep, as in she retired to her bedroom), to move back, to recede, to withdraw from circulation or from the market (as with a product).

That latter meaning is the one that bothers me.  The idea of retiring a product or a service from use because it is no longer relevant or saleable is one thing, but to retire a person from use depresses me.

Perhaps, my transitional meaning comes from baseball. You can retire a batter (3 strikes) or even retire the side (3 outs).  In those cases, the batter or team is done – but it’s not permanent. You’ll get up to bat again – perhaps in just a few minutes; perhaps tomorrow.

Leaving one’s job or ceasing to work after reaching a certain age – retirement –  has been around since around the 18th century, though it was something only the upper classes with some wealth could consider. (Prior to the 18th century, humans had an average life expectancy between 26 and 40 years, so only a small percentage of the population reached an age where physical impairments would force them to stop working.)

Countries began to adopt government policies on retirement (beginning in Germany) during the late 19th century and the 20th century. The kind of retirement that Americans think of today didn’t come into usage here until around the 1920s.

Currently in the United States, early retirement is considered age 62 and the normal retirement age is 67. That’s up from the earlier standard of 65 and it has a lot to do with when you collect your full Social Security benefits. Of the 55-59 age group,  66% are still working. That drops to 43% for the 60-64 group. The big drop is for 65-69 who have only 20% still working. At 70+ you only have 5% still working.

I still hear people say that they’ll keep working until they die – either because they believe (sadly, perhaps mistakenly) that they’ll need the income, or because (happily) they love what they do.

I talked with a friend about this post when I started writing it and he reminded me that none of this may be relevant to most people. He said that the situation I’m in and Pat and Jane are in is not the norm for a lot of Americans. We have pensions, Social Security, some investments, a home and enough that if we’re not overly extravagant we should be okay financially in retirement. That’s not true for lots of people.

Of course, none of us can predict the future whether it be about the economy or our own health and circumstances. But you do need to plan ahead. At least, that’s my approach and it’s a cautious one I have taken my entire life. I bet I missed out on some adventures and fun along the way. Is retirement my second chance?



The Floating University


Marja Sklodowska was born in Warsaw in 1867. Her parents were both teachers and nationalists at a time when Poland was under Russian rule. Marie and her sister were hungry for higher learning, but women were banned from the university, so for a time, they attended a revolutionary illegal night school called “The Flying University,” which constantly switched locations to avoid the Russian authorities. Flying University (Polish: Uniwersytet Latający, less often translated as “Floating University”) operated from 1885 to 1905  and was revived between 1977 and 1981 in the People’s Republic of Poland.

Marie and her sister Bronya were determined to get a proper education. Marie worked for three years as a governess so that her sister could study medicine in Paris. When Marie got her own chance to study at the Sorbonne, she graduated at the top of her class in physics and math. She is better remembered today by her married name, Marie Curie.

While searching online, I found that there is another enterprise called The Floating University (FU) that began in 2011 when Big Think partnered with the Jack Parker Corporation to launch an online educational initiative. It debuted at Harvard University, Yale University, and Bard College with an inaugural course, “Great Big Ideas.”

Their first Great Big Ideas course was subtitled “An Entire Undergraduate Education While Standing On One Foot.” The big idea of FU was wondering what if the world’s greatest thinkers and leading practitioners all taught at the same school? What if anyone, anywhere could enroll in this school?

This is also the concept that launched hundreds of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) around the same time. So, FU was there at the start of this open-access movement in higher education.

The Floating University’s first course, Great Big Ideas, is composed of 12 video lectures ranging from 40-60 minutes in length. (I had an issue viewing them because they use Flash and my devices and browsers don’t play well with that software.)

I like MOOCs. I have taught online, including a MOOC. So, I’m good with this new Floating University. But the idea of an underground face-to-face “flying university” sounds more exciting.


Drawn Towards Water


I have always been drawn to water. I’m not alone in feeling this pull.

Perhaps there is something to that lunar pull that moves the tides.  The “lunar effect” is usually defined as a real or imaginary correlation between specific stages of the roughly 29.5-day lunar cycle and behavior and physiological changes in living beings on Earth, including humans. Examples of this belief have been found in ancient Assyrian/Babylonian writing.

There have been plenty of studies to consider any effects on humans. Some studies have found no correlation between the lunar cycle and human biology or on our behavior. One that I found seemed to indicate that there seems to be an effect on humans based on the amount of moonlight rather than tidal pull. An ancient belief that survived into modern times was that the monthly cycle of menstruation in women was lunar based, ut that is now considered a coincidence in timing without lunar influence.

I don’t feel any monthly pull to water, but like Ishmael in the opening of Moby-Dick, I do find myself drawn to the ocean several times a year.

“Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off- then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can. This is my substitute for pistol and ball. With a philosophical flourish Cato throws himself upon his sword; I quietly take to the ship. There is nothing surprising in this. If they but knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean with me.”

Maybe Ishmael was suffering from Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). As someone who grew up with time at the Jersey Shore every summer of my life, I find that “high time to get to sea” more of a spring event than a November one.

My most regular pull to water is to local waters. There are brooks and creeks in the woods where I frequently walk that I am always drawn to visit.  There is something in the tumbling water that I find very appealing.

That is magnified when I visit waterfalls nearby, from the small Hemlock Falls that was childhood destination to the Great Falls of the Passaic River. (Take a look at the Great Falls.)

There is science to this attraction. The dispersion of water from waterfalls, waves, or even lightning and water evaporation from plants, create hydrogen ions by splitting water molecules. The negative electrons join up with other free positive electrons in the air neutralizing their electrical charge. That is why people buy air ionizers (negative ion generator) which uses a high voltage charge to ionize air molecules and generate negative ions. Negative, in this case, is a good thing. A trendy, new-age version is the Himalayan salt lamps that are sold.

Naturally-occurring negative ions are said to have health benefits including enhancing the immune system, increasing alertness, productivity, and concentration. There are claims that you can get relief from sinus, migraine headaches, allergies, and asthma attacks.  Some tests have shown that negative ions can stabilize alpha rhythms in the human brain. (Alpha waves usually occur when we are awake and relaxed.)

I would consider water therapy as effective as “forest bathing” and other get-into-nature therapies.

You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink,” is a common English proverb.  It’s an old one, going back to 1175 in Old English Homilies: “Hwa is thet mei thet hors wettrien the him self nule drinken” which is translated as “who can give water to the horse that will not drink of its own accord?”

You can lead people into nature or to the water, but they may not drink in its benefits. You have to be drawn towards it on your own.

As a child, Cub and Boy Scout and independent hiker and walker of the woods, I discovered early on that I was attracted, like other animals, to water. Animal paths made by deer and other creatures inevitably lead to a water source. Another quote from Moby-Dick, talks about this attraction to water and not only the sea.

“Take almost any path you please, and ten to one it carries you down in a dale, and leaves you there by a pool in the stream. There is magic in it. Let the most absent-minded of men be plunged in his deepest reveries–stand that man on his legs, set his feet a-going, and he will infallibly lead you to water, if water there be in all that region. Should you ever be athirst in the great American desert, try this experiment, if your caravan happen to be supplied with a metaphysical professor. Yes, as every one knows, meditation and water are wedded for ever.” 

As I wander in the woods, naturally-made paths do lead downhill because they were first worn by rainwater and then by animals making their way to a pool, pond or stream.

We are drawn to water. And that is a good thing.


Did PKD Meet God?

PKDPhilip K. Dick (PKD) is a writer that I find quite fascinating. I have written about him in different contexts and I became particularly interested in his writing beyond the novels and stories that have been popularized through film versions. One of those is his Exegesis which was published after his death and stands as his final work.

In 1974, PKD said that he met God – at least he thought it was God.

Visionary is a word often used in describing him and his stories, and visions certainly play a role in the lives of his characters and in the author’s own life.

Philip was a seeker. He wasn’t really seeking God for most of his life, but he was seeking answers, including answers about what to write.

I have read that PKD consulted the ancient Chinese divination text, I Ching (The Book of Changes) which had an American resurgence in the 1960s. My own explorations with that volume were unsatisfactory as the interpretations are very broad and I didn’t find any guidance from it. But others have found answers in it.

PKD used the I Ching to guide his life and to guide his writing at times. He said that he used it when writing The Man in the High Castle. That 1962 novel (and a Netflix series) portrays an alternate history in which the Axis powers won World War II. The I Ching shows up in the novel too as Japan rules the western part of the old United States.

I have had a long fascination with this time in PDK’s life story when he believed he had encounters with God.

Twice, in February and March 1974, Philip K. Dick met what he believed was God in a  hallucinatory experience.

He wrote about the experience rather obsessively in his rather bizarre diaries that later were published as The Exegesis of Philip K. Dick. (I think that PKD might like that you can read it on a Kindle.)

Dick by Crumb
Robert Crumb illustrates Philip K. Dick’s “Meeting with God”

The experience began with a wisdom tooth extraction after which he met at his front door a delivery girl from the pharmacy who wore a golden Christian fish symbol around her neck, and that symbol triggered his visions.

H described his contact as coming via a “pink beam” which imparted knowledge to him. One example of that was when it told him that his infant son was ill – something that was confirmed when he took the child to the hospital and the diagnosis was confirmed. Dick called these experiences “2-3-74” for February–March 1974.

PDK said it was God but he referred to “it” as Zebra, or by the acronym VALIS (Vast Active Living Intelligence System) which was used for VALIS the novel, which has a PKD-like character. This book is Dick’s gnostic vision of one aspect of God.  It was to be volume one of an incomplete VALIS trilogy. Volume two was published as The Divine Invasion in 1981, and the planned third novel was to be  The Owl in Daylight.

Outsider cartoonist and a PKD fan, Robert Crumb, wrote and  illustrated Dick’s meeting with a divine intelligence in “The Religious Experience of Philip K. Dick.” I found it in the collection, The Weirdo Years by R. Crumb: 1981-’93 which uses quotes from PDK’s retelling of the event in the narration.

Crumb is known for his “underground” comics that went above ground, like Fritz the Cat, but he also has done some serious and realist illustrations, such as his version of The Book of Genesis.

Another visionary who connected with PDK is Terence Mckenna who wrote the afterword (“I Understand Philip K. Dick”) for the book  In Pursuit of Valis: Selections from the Exegesis .

McKenna is known for many theories that appear in his many books. My favorite concerns novelty.

McKenna formulated a concept about the nature of time that was based on fractal patterns he claimed to have discovered in the I Ching. He called it novelty theory and from it, he proposed a prediction about the end of time (not the end of the world) and a transition of consciousness in the year 2012. His novelty theory got attention as that year approached, especially because it was also the year that some calculated as the end of the world (but more accurately the beginning of a new consciousness) based on the Maya calendar.

Novelty theory is generally considered to be pseudoscience, and 2012 came and went without anything significant happening to the world. McKenna’s personal end of time came in 2000.

As PKD explored with LSD, novelty came from the mid-1970s experiences with psilocybin mushrooms in the Amazon that McKenna had which led him to the King Wen sequence of the I Ching. The drug connections have not helped the reputation of either theorist in the eyes of scientists.

In novelty theory, the ebb and flow of novelty in the universe are inherent in time. McKenna thought that time is not a constant but moves between either “habit” or “novelty.” For this, habit is entropic, repetitious, or conservative, while novelty is creative, disjunctive, or a progressive phenomenon. For McKenna, the universe is an engine that produces novelty, which then increases complexity, which acts as a platform for further complexity.

In that afterword that he wrote for the PDK book, McKenna says that “The mathematical nature of this pattern can be known. It can be written as an equation, just like the equations of Schrodinger or Einstein.” Like that famous seeker, Albert Einstein, McKenna and Philip K. Dick spent a good part of their lives seeking the equation which would be one answer to it all.

7 of wands
Seven of Wands from The Fool’s Journey of Philip K. Dick tarot cards

I have not read that PKD used the tarot, but it would not surprise if he did explore with it. This 15th-century European card “game” also has a long history for divining our destinies.

the fool
The Fool from the Rider deck

The most popular tarot deck (and the one I first encountered in college) is known as the Rider Tarot deck (AKA the Rider-Waite Tarot) from 1909.

There are many modern versions of tarot decks. There was even a tarot deck designed by Salvador Dalí

The reason I include tarot in this discussion of PDK is that I came across in my web research a kind of tarot/I Ching/Philip K. Dick mashup.

high castle
Man in the High Castle card

It is called “The Fool’s Journey of Philip K. Dick” which is a tarot deck done by PKD scholar Ted Hand and tarot artist Christopher Wilkey. It has 80 cards that use elements from Dick’s works. It also has four rule cards for two “I Ching inspired card games and an eight-sided folding booklet about tarot as Gnostic Allegory. I couldn’t find the deck online but it is on the publisher Wide Books’ website along with other PDK publications.



About Philip K. Dick
About Tarot
About I Ching
Terence McKenna
2012 and the new consciousness

Walking the Labyrinth That Isn’t There

“If we wish to outline an architecture which conforms to the structure of our soul […], it would have to be conceived in the image of the Labyrinth.”
– Friedrich Nietzsche, Dawn (1881)

Grace Cathedral interior with labyrinth
Grace Cathedral (San Francisco) interior with labyrinth similar to the one in Chartres Cathedral
I found a mention online of William H. Matthews’ Mazes and Labyrinths. It was published in London in 1922 and is still available.

I never encountered a real labyrinth until I was in college. I had read about famous ones and I found them alluring. I read about the Minotaur of Crete in one, and ones in the great cathedrals of Medieval France, and inside and outside stately homes and spiritual centers of Europe.

What could Herodotus have thought to stand before the Great Labyrinth of Egypt with its 3,000 rooms?


There are labyrinths that are made of rooms and columns, ones like caverns, mazes built to protect tombs and treasures. You can find labyrinthine patterns used to design gardens and used on coins and as decoration. They are given to children as puzzles or brainteasers.

My interest now is more with very simple labyrinths. Though some of these mazes have religious purposes, using one is probably more often spiritual or meditative.

I have written about walking a labyrinth before and mentioned them in other contexts.

Rather than trying to find the treasure or feeling trapped, in the ones that I have walked I didn’t where the path would take me, though I could see the center. I don’t try to guess or figure out the turns ahead. If I follow the path, there is one way in and one way out.

Once, I saw someone walking with me who was so frustrated at being “lost” and not finding the right path that she just walked right across the 2D maze to the outside. I felt bad for her.

I prefer to walk alone, but when you meet others along the path, you usually step aside to let them pass. Sometimes others are more in a hurry and will pass me.  I don’t like to pass others.

When I reach the center, sometimes I stop. There is nothing special there. No message or revelation. You haven’t reached the end. You still need to find your way out, which is also the way in.

A new maze is interesting because you don’t know the path. I have never walked one so many times that I have it memorized.  I wonder how that would change the experience?

If you were to ask me what I get from walking the labyrinth, I’m not I could give you a satisfactory explanation.

Psychologist and philosopher William James described four characteristics of mystical experience in his book The Varieties of Religious Experience.  I would describe walking the labyrinth in his terms as being transient – the experience is temporary and the individual soon returns to a “normal” frame of mind. The experience feels outside the normal perception of space and time. The experience is also ineffable in that it cannot be adequately put into words.

The ineffable makes the third characteristic impossible for me to describe, That is, it is noetic. You feel that you have learned something valuable from the experience – knowledge that is normally hidden from human understanding.

In the best experiences, this is passive. It happens to the individual, largely without conscious control. That makes walking the labyrinth or meditating or taking a drug the wrong approach. It is not something that can be turned on and off at will.

I wish to walk a labyrinth some day that is not there and that I did not enter and will not have to leave.

Two Hours in Nature

Nature is not a place to visit. It is home.
Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild

We are bombarded online with advice on how to be healthier and happier. I just read recently that coffee is not bad for me. In fact, it can reduce my risk of cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s, heart disease, increase my short-term focus and endurance and increase your life span. Talk about a wonder drug.

Of course, research next year may say the opposite about coffee.

But a new research study about spending time in nature is one that I will accept no matter what the next study finds.

It comes from the University of Exeter and was published in the journal Scientific Reports. It uses data from 20,000 people, so this is no little study in a lab with 20 people.

This survey asked participants how much time they spent in “open spaces in and around towns and cities, including parks, canals and nature areas; the coast and beaches; and the countryside including farmland, woodland, hills, and rivers” in the past week. They also asked about their health and wellbeing.

This study found that people who had spent two hours or more in nature the previous week displayed “consistently higher levels of both health and well-being than those who reported no exposure.”

Two hours.

The participants who had spent little or no time in parks, beaches or woods in the past seven days, close to half reported low levels of life satisfaction and one in four said they were in poor health.

What about spending more than two hours out in nature? Oddly, there were diminishing returns.

Some interpretations have considered that the health benefits might be a byproduct of physical activity, exposure to sunlight and not contact with nature.

I was surprised, as were the researchers, that it did not matter whether the two hours in nature were taken in one session or in a series of shorter visits. It also didn’t seem to matter whether people went to an urban park, woodlands or the beach.

I have written here about nature deficit disorder  and forest bathing and the benefits of just being in nature in all its forms.

Two hours a week in nature doesn’t sound like a difficult thing to achieve in order to be healthier in mind and body. But isn’t an attainable target for everyone.

Articles online point out that it would be difficult for people with disabilities. In the most urban of areas, there may not even be a nearby woods, a patch of green space or park. And even if some nature is available, some people don’t seem to be able to find the time – though I find that a flimsy excuse if you only need to accomplish a total of two hours per week.  That’s only a bit more than 15 minutes a day. Coffee or lunch break?

The idea of spending time in nature for your health is not at all new, and I find examples of some interesting nature prescriptions regularly. In the Shetland Islands (UK), they are prescribed to visit seabird colonies, build woodland dens or simply appreciate the shapes of clouds.

Eco-therapy in New Zealand produced improvements after six months in two-thirds of patients given green prescriptions.  By gardening or working on conservation projects they were happier, lost weight and even seemed to be helped with mild to moderate depression.

Still, the takeaway from that new study is that if you can just get two hours in some kind of natural place per week, you’re going to benefit.