Jerome Shea       June 9, 2007      Weekend Wonk

I did it. I retired about two weeks ago and it seems fitting that I mark the occasion in this cyber journal or whatever you want to call it. I am now a retiree, official senior citizen, duffer, old fart, whatever.

If you want to give it some dignity, I am now professor emeritus after 30 years at the University of New Mexico, the last dozen of them in the English Department. Before that I had one college collapse under me and another get strangely transmogrified—not that I’m a jinx, you understand. I was a program head and even a “deanlet” (associate dean), a position for which I was totally unfit though I did like the spiffy title. In fact, my boyish charm and sunny disposition often led people to promote me beyond my competence. Fortunately, no permanent harm was done. I think.

The one thing that I do do very well—I’ll say it—“damned well”—because my colleagues and students will attest to it—is teach (you can put parenthetical dashes within parenthetical dashes? Evidently so. Retirement brings wonderful freedoms!). Back in 1991 I was named Outstanding UNM Teacher, and I made a good run for it again just this past year. So I will continue to teach until, as I’ve said somewhere, they pry the chalk out of my cold, dead hand. But no more sophomore writing course, which I won’t miss (grading essays is the mental equivalent of stoop labor, especially more than 40 years out) and no more grammar course (don’t be piggy; let some new people have a chance). Over the years I re-invented myself as a rhetorician. Specifically, I came upon the works of Richard Lanham, now emeritus of UCLA. Armed with his ideas (and later, his friendship), I developed a prose style course which I will continue to teach every spring, and a classical tropes course which I will continue to teach every fall. One course. Every semester. No summer teaching ever again. Paradise enow.

So on a Friday afternoon a couple of weeks ago a number of my colleagues gathered and, as the chairman put it, “fussed over me.” I gave what is traditionally called the “last lecture” (for which I recalled my first disastrous “lecture,” 43 years previously). Many embarrassingly nice things were said about me; I seem to have been genuinely liked in these precincts. I was honestly touched. I felt for a moment that the Alumni Chapel would have been a more appropriate venue than the department lounge. (And that will come as it does to us all, but not for a good 20 years, I hope.)

The hardest part of retirement? Sweating out those last couple of weeks, I think. I certainly didn’t want to retire prematurely, as it were, sloughing off in my teaching because I could practically taste the luxuriance of the blessed end. And those weeks did drag so! The other part, because I have absolutely no head for it, was all the paperwork, the changes to see to: social security, medicare, senior health plans, UNM retirement benefits options. I am still working on those things and their attendant deadlines, but I see light at the end of the tunnel.

Still, people wonder solicitously how I feel about retirement, the implication being that retirement is glorious for the first few weeks and then things come crashing down, that I will be a lost soul, a terrible burden to my wife, and a pain to my friends (if I have any left). Well, I am here to tell you that things are fine so far. Yes, I know that’s what the guy is reported to have said as he plunged past the fifth floor window. But I will have my teaching. I have a big recliner and stacks of books to read, and I can find my way to the library when I run out. I will have, Matt Cone willing, this weekendwonk column. I have my running and beautiful places to run. I have my spunky Miata, the Little Red Beast, when the roads beckon. And I have, thank God, a wife who still puts up with me. So please, friends, take that pruny look off your faces.

As my son, in an alliterative fit of haiku, put it

So Shea slips slowly
As soft as silver ribbons
To sanctuary

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