English MATTERS — SPRING 2012


Roger Sale

I retired in 1999, aged 67. I wasn’t tired of teaching, but the Clinton dot.com boom had left me a handsome chunk of retirement $$ (much soon to disappear), and I had to retire sometime. I celebrated by driving across the country by myself to my 50th high school reunion, stopping to see two high school girlfriends along the way.

What does one do in retirement? Travel. Write. But I’d traveled a lot already, and written a lot too.

Most of what now seem like highlights of the last dozen years were not of my choice. They fell into my lap: A couple asked me to help them with Ulysses, and that led to a group meeting weekly to read one long book a year—our 2011-12 book is War and Peace; another couple had a spare bedroom in Soho Square in London and that led to two long walks, 50 miles in Dorset and Wiltshire for our 50th wedding anniversary, and that in turn led to our walking 75 miles on the South Downs Way for our 75th birthdays; a friend says, “You ought to start a blog, and the subject should be Lifelong Learning”; another friend asked me to talk to a prisoner in Monroe, and I’ve now finished teaching my fourth for-credit course there.

picture of Roger Sale Those are highlights. My aim in daily life is to invent days, and I’m helped doing this with routines. Two games of squash on good weeks, lunches with friends, walks on golf courses, two book groups, an hour of Free Cell a day, marketing weekly, and cooking nightly. Recently I led a church service, as I do now and then, and it feels a blessing because I get a few weeks to gestate while walking or driving, mulling texts and the hymnal, letting the wind blow where it listeth.

As Rat says to Mole while foraging in Mole’s larder, “You deny yourself nothing.” Indeed. While I was teaching, all of these happened, if at all, by being squinched in here and there. Now they’re given their due. Over and over it feels as in Frost’s great phrase, “Work is play for mortal stakes.”

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