About Karens’ Descant

How Did We Get Here?

Karen Martha:  In December 2015, I retired. The next six months I floundered, dazed by lack of structure and purpose to my life. To give myself something to do and a voice, I decided to start a blog, a place to write about retirement as I searched for a way forward. I called it Karen’s Descant determined to get above the noise of my uncertainty. I wrote one post and stopped.

Karen Rose:  While Karen Martha made a precipitous decision to retire, I continued to moan about retirement for several more years.  I promised myself that I would fully retire before I turned 75 because I was terrified that I would turn into “that person” who stayed too long, and who had to be urged to leave.  I wanted to leave while I was still relevant…But, when I negotiated a 3-year phased retirement in 2017, I panicked.…

Karen Martha: About the same time that I retired, another friend, Kyla, retired, although she stayed engaged in her work studying sleep in adolescence and its effects on school performance. Then Karen R. began the process of disengaging gradually from her work as a professor.

Karen Rose:  I looked at both Karen Martha and Kyla, both of whom I have known for 30+ years, and said “Both of you are failing retirement.  You are still doing some of the same work but either not getting paid for it or getting paid less.” 

Karen Martha:  The three of us decided to have periodic lunches together to discuss retirement, calling it at various times, the Retirement Biddies and the Winsome Threesome.

Karen Rose:  Since I file everything on my computer (I have a paper problem), my first electronic folder was “The Retirement Chronicles”.

Karen Martha:  And I called mine “Retirement Exercises.” I’m a big believer in exercise.

For the lunches we read and discussed popular books (often doing exercises which we shared) that might guide us, including Designing Your Life (https://designingyour.life/the-book/); the Not So Big Life (http://www.notsobiglife.com/); It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again (https://juliacameronlive.com/books-by-julia/its-never-too-late-to-begin-again); Repacking Your Bags (https://richardleider.com/books/repacking-your-bags-lighten-your-load-for-the-good-life/) ; and The Creative Age (https://www.amazon.com/Creative-Age-Awakening-Potential-Second/dp/0380800713). These lunches and our responses to these guides, as well as spilling out our troubles, triumphs, dreams and steps on our journeys, in no time became a priority for the three of us.

In our search for books about retirement that we could read together, it was quickly obvious that most (other than those listed above) were variations on two themes—how to handle your money and finding a second career or the euphemism—your passion. But what we most found ourselves discussing was the emotional experience of letting go of work we had loved, leaving behind colleagues of all ages for a more age-constrained group of friends, the importance of new and old relationships in our lives, the negotiations with spouses about how to spend the stretch of time we all hoped was ahead, fun stuff, and things we worried about.

Karen Rose:  At the same time, my anxiety about retirement was soothed during our lunches but did not fully abate.  I began searching the web for thoughtful ideas about retiring better…and reported that the blogs and posts were largely the same as the books.  They reflected an approach to retirement as a new “strategic planning problem” and not an ambiguous design challenge that bumped up against existential value assumptions.  After money or where to live, most of the websites appeared to be firmly located in the “10 steps to personal happiness in retirement” genre.  While some of them were helpful, they barely touched the surface of the (often random) issues that hit me when I woke up or had to make decisions about what I would agree to do and what I would say no to.

Karen Martha:  I don’t remember quite how it evolved, but at some point Karen Rose and I decided we wanted to blog and since I had already set up Karen’s Descant, we decided to make it Karens’ Descant and we were off and running.  Kyla was busy figuring out how to retire from the remaining work that she was beginning to let go – and developing her unexpected but clear passion as a talented watercolor artist.

Karen Martha and Karen Rose:  Our blog will reflect the woman’s perspective on moving into the awkwardly named “beyond adulthood” phase of life – as we begin to imagine what we want to do during the last 1/3 of life. We will inevitably quote and learn from men – both those we live with and love, and those who have shown wisdom about living. In fact, we came across the phrase “beyond adulthood” in a lovely film by David Carey (http://agingfilms.org/.

We promise to challenge conventional approaches to retirement and to bring some levity to the discussion.  Like many of our friends, we often look at our small failures (once we have recovered from our initial embarrassment or sense of inadequacy) with humor. 

Our blog will be two tiny voices among the macro approach that so many retirement books take. You know, those “finding your purpose,” “getting more exercise,” and “how not to run out of money” themes. And we will definitely not provide Forbes-like lists of where, what, when and how about anything.

We are also committed to making our blog a space for community, rather than a recitation of our (??) wisdom.  We won’t tell you that if you think as we do, you will find happiness.  We won’t tell you how to plan for “beyond adulthood” or how best to be retired or find a new career. We see post adulthood and retirement as an opportunity for reflection, and for us, reflection is stimulated by the ideas of others, the community. We will welcome guest bloggers and encourage dialogue. Along the way, we will interview exemplars of retirement.  We won’t avoid painful topics like additional income, illness, aging, death, and loss, although these will be peripheral to the “lived-experience” of retirement as the main topic. We don’t see aging or retirement as victimhood but rather as a new opportunity for creative living. We heard the term “beyond adulthood” and we hope to explore this further.

Finally, here is what we promise our blog will not be: advice, solutions, or a diary.  And most important—we have nothing to sell!