Life After Retirement

While I knew that when I retired I’d miss my job, my colleagues, and the whole environment of San Francisco State, I didn’t realize how much. Perhaps most of all, I missed being needed.  Everything that had made the job occasionally difficult turned out to be what I apparently, unwittingly, craved the most.

But I was lucky. Shortly after my retirement, I was appointed Visiting Professor of Dutch Studies at Berkeley, a position I held for almost three years. It was very much a part-time teaching job, with a more than full-time commute, but enormously gratifying, mainly because I was able to teach courses I couldn’t have in the English Department at State. Suddenly I was ‘needed’ again, and how! Anything remotely Dutch that came up required my participation. Towards the end of my years at Berkeley I got a nice letter from the Chancellor, calling me one of Berkeley’s “Unsung Heroes.”

Well, unsung, yes. I enjoyed my Berkeley students, but had little sense of membership in the German Department (where Dutch Studies was housed). So a mixed blessing, but still a blessing. And a further blessing was to have a teaching position at the Fromm Institute, located on the beautiful USF campus, where I still teach a short course every year.

After Berkeley came the next phase, my life as a writer. Throughout my career I had published translations, articles, essays in magazines and newspapers. Now I took it on myself to write a book. My first effort was to collect many of the articles and columns I had written over the years and shape them into a somewhat coherent narrative, creating a kind of autobiography in opinions. That book, called Almost a Foreign Country [2008] — the title signifies the estrangement older people feel from their surroundings — got a certain amount of gratifying response, in part resulting from my appearance on Michael Krasny’s hugely popular KQED program “Forum.”

Next, I collected and enlarged stories I had published in magazines, about my growing up in the Netherlands West Indies, then still a Dutch colony. My colleagues George Leonard, Jim Kohn and Dean Nancy McDermid encouraged publication of some of them in the School of Humanities Magazine, and my book, Survival in Paradise: Sketches from a Refugee Life in Curacao, came out in 2014. Among many others noting this publication was a former student, Vernon Kerr, who took my Critical Writing class in 1963, and who is now writing a screenplay of my book. Can any author ask for anything more?

The writing life is and isn’t ideal during retirement. Yes, there’s time for writing, but that in itself causes a certain pressure. Stories abound of writers doing everything possible to avoid writing — dishes, laundry, taking the dog to the vet. . . 


Also, we live in a time and a place where probably more books are published than read. I’m frequently reminded of a New Yorker cartoon, in which one cocktail party guest asks another, “When did you first get the idea NOT to write a book?”


Fortunately, I manage to forget that cartoon from time to time!