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The r-word no longer defines boomers' next stage

Are you thinking of "caesura-ing" soon?

In case you don't get the lingo, here's the scoop: "Caesura" (yes, it's in the dictionary) is the latest in a string of words proposed to replace "retirement." The r-word, according to people who ponder such things, needs to be retired soon.

As the oldest baby boomers begin turning 62 on Jan. 1 and start applying for Social Security, a whole bunch of people around their age will be applying for something else: jobs. That's because for many in today's world, "retirement" no longer is synonymous with the end of a need — or a desire — to work.

"No one wants to call it retirement," said Mark Skeie, 61, who after leaving his job as a department manager at 3M Co. took up a new venture that keeps him hopping at least 40 hours a week. He and wife Janet, of Lake Elmo, with editor/designer Julie Roles have created a workbook (now in bookstores and here for about $25) geared to people who want to explore all their options as they enter traditional post-working years. Now they're marketing the workbook and working with colleges interested in building adult courses around it. The first classes will appear early next year at three schools in the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system, including Century College in White Bear Lake.

"Retirement means to withdraw, and none of us appears to be retiring very much by withdrawing," Mark Skeie said. Yet when the time came to publish the workbook, which landed on bookshelves in October, the couple named it "Mapping Your Retirement."

Why? Nothing else works, he said. "The word most people know is retirement. No one has quite coined another phrase yet that has stuck."

Mapping Your Retirement

How about refirement?
Many have tried. Twin Citian James Gambone might have triggered the renaming game. His retirement-replacement term, "refirement," was introduced in his book, "Refirement: A Boomer's Guide to Life After 50," published seven years ago. A string of other suggestions has surfaced, most inspired by the technological age and beginning with "re." "Rewire," "reboot," "retool" and "retread" have never really caught on, either. Nor have the phrases the Skeies encountered while researching for their workbook, such as "third phase," "new starts" and "second part of life."

While some pondered the perfect substitute for "retired," the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) took another approach. AARP leaders ditched the word by officially changing the organization's name to the acronym. It's true that many people already recognized AARP by its initials, said Harry "Rick" Moody, director of AARP's Office of Academic Affairs. But banishing the "retired" label, he said, "was a basic reason for changing the name."

Today's 38 million members of AARP glimpse the last third of life differently from members a generation ago, he said. What's happened is a shift to a different set of expectations, along with "doing work on a different schedule" over a life course. "About three-fourths of aging boomers expect to work during the traditional retirement years," he said. "It's very different from the old view of retirement — the golf course and the rocking chair."

Other numbers back him up. A Merrill Lynch retirement study last year indicates the work-longer trend will surge as 78 million baby boomers, now ages 61 to 42, climb the age ladder. Seventy-six percent of boomers plan to continue working in their "retirement" years, the study shows. More than half have laid some groundwork to take on a new line of work or start a new career. Some want to start businesses. Others hope to create something new with skills they've polished during years in the workplace. Some say they'll need the income or the health insurance employment can provide. And many say they're counting less on such sources of support in retirement as defined-benefit plans, Social Security and Medicare.

Caesura, anybody?
Sure, some people still set out to leave longtime work for a life of leisure. But for many of them that means travel, regular involvement with grandkids, volunteer work or revving up — or beginning — a hobby, pastime or sport. "We're all having new adventures," Janet Skeie said.

Now to elaborate on the newest candidate to replace the tired "retired." Of Latin derivation, "caesura" (pronounced si-ZHOOR'-uh; the "si" sounds like the "i" in sip) is a noun with an artful ring, much like its dictionary definition: "a break or pause in a line of verse or a melody." The brainchild of career college professor and author Mary Louise Floyd, the suggestion is posed in her book, "Retired With Husband: Superwoman's New Challenge," published this year by Massachusetts-based Vanderwyk & Burnham.

Floyd sees today's retirees as a line of poetry at its best point, the "caesura" of life, ready to build on what they've done and where they've been. Even she agrees the word doesn't flow so well as "caesura-ing" or "caesura-ment." But neither does it start with "re," she said in a phone interview from her home in Atlanta. That's a plus, because "re" implies repetition of what was done in the past. The problem with "re" is it looks back, not forward, she said. "Boomers will so completely redefine retirement that they'll make the word obsolete."

New directions
The baby boom generation doesn't want to retire the way their parents and grandparents did, which meant leaving the work force. "For the boomer it implies the end of productivity and involvement, like being put out to pasture," she said. As the boomers have always done, they want to do it their way. "We're the generation about whom 'Star Wars' was written," she reminds us. "And we very much believe The Force is still with us."

Marsha Smith retired last spring after 36 years as a schoolteacher, but not because she was weary of doing the work. Family considerations colored her decision to leave her job teaching drama, public speaking, media and film at Roseville Area High School. Along with that, "I had reached an age where I could," said Smith, 58, of St. Paul. "I thought, why not? Why not try something else?"

Along with spending more time with her retired husband and aging mother, she volunteers by reading aloud for the Society for the Blind and markets her theatrical skills for paid work doing voiceovers and acting on radio and television. She wasted little time landing a nice gig taping a prominent ad for TV. An added thrill came with it when she recognized the commercial's set designer as one of her former students.

"Caesura" is a fit, Smith said, to describe her retirement path.

"It's really a new career direction," she said. "Not the end of a career."

Kay Harvey, a former reporter and editor for the Pioneer Press, writes about aging, gender, demographics and other topics for MinnPost. She can be reached at kharvey [at] minnpost [dot] com.

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Comments (4)

Maybe at 52 I am just frustrated by the shenanigans of corporate America and the utter stupidity of the people I work for, but I am planning a real "retirement." I dream of a day when clients don't call at 11 a.m. on Easter Day and so I can explain for 330th time how to do something that anyone who spent 30 seconds looking at would be able to figure out. I don't want to start another business. I want to walk in the woods and go look at birds on Saint John's Island. I want to see Corsica and Cape Town. I want to build furniture and become an accomplished angler. I don't go a half a day thinking about how nice it would be done with making a living and start doing some living.

Even if it starts with the "re" that Ms. Floyd criticizes, I rather like Neil Young's phrasing in "Falling from Above" on his Greendale album: "I won't retire, but I might retread."

I like the Spanish infinitive for retirement: jubilarse. That is, literally, to make oneself jubilant. It seems to suggest that retired folks embrace the passions, people and hobbies they didn't have the time or budget to enjoy before.

Great article, Kay.

None of these terms have a chance; any word that takes a couple of minutes just to learn how to pronounce (or conversely, spell if brought up vocally) isn't going to catch on.

"Refirement" is even worse; it's what you do after being "fired" a second time. And no one is going to call themselves an "AARPer."

The term that will catch on, in fact it has just about already, is semi-retirement. It's a term everyone understands immediately, even if it's not very jazzed up or exciting. And unlike the other terms, it encompasses all situations; someone working at his/her same job at reduced hours, another, different part-time job, doing occasional work, or even doing volunteer work.