The Chronicle of Higher Education
November 17th, 2014
I cried only once. In April, right after
I left a departmental personnel meeting about the search for the new
hire who would replace me. At the point where students were scheduled to
come in and say what they thought was both good and bad about the
drawing and painting program that I headed, I stood up (per an
arrangement with my chairman) and recused myself so that the students
might speak freely. I gathered my books and folders. Walking down an
empty stairwell, I burst into tears.
Five years ago, I signed an "irrevocable agreement" with Hofstra
University that paid me a bonus to retire "early." In my case, that
meant at the age of 66. I saw retiring early as an existential embrace
of freedom; a last grab to paint my pictures without interruption; to
teach maybe, but only occasionally, as a visiting artist; to reread The Magic Mountain; to ponder the starry firmament above and the moral law within.
On commencement day this year, those five years had passed.
Recovering my initial passion to leave full-time teaching behind
required an almost daily fight to suppress the thought, "This is the
last time I will ever do this." I couldn’t help but hear Dylan singing
in my head, "How does it feel / To be without a home /Like a complete unknown / Like a rolling stone?"