Shy of retiring by Veronica Zundel





Do you ever find yourself filling in a form or completing a survey online, and not knowing what to put when it comes to 'employment status'? Or is it just me? I've been drawing my state pension for nearly 7 years now, being one of those lucky women born in the early part of the Coronation year, and have been drawing down modestly from my private pension for a couple of years. Yet I still write regularly for paying publications, am stuck in the middle of a book I can't seem to finish, and get the odd poem published, sometimes winning prize money (which, invidiously, is taxed...). So am I retired, or self-employed? Just occasionally I find a form that allows you to tick more than one box, and I tick both. Because really, a bit like Schrödinger's famous cat (incidentally, Schrödinger was my mother's Physics lecturer at the University of Vienna), I am simultaneously working and not working.

Can writers -- do any 'creatives' or indeed performers -- actually retire anyway? I don't think we're allowed to. It's simple if you've had a job outside writing: you can retire from that job and devote more time to your writing. But if like me you've been a writer your whole career (with a touch of editing), retirement can only be achieved by devoting less time to your writing. And who wants to do that? Added to that, my husband is five years younger than me and so by the abstruse process of raising the pension age, he won't get his state pension till ten years after I got mine. Which means we can't really retire together until I'm 72, but in my current state of creakiness I'd rather do it sooner. I look with envy at friends who have ended their careers, who are having days out on weekdays and spending time with grandchildren (not that we have any of those yet, our son being born when I was over 40 and hence still quite young). But the only way we can transition to that happy state is by his setting an arbitrary retirement date and drawing on his private pension early. Which hasn't been possible till recently, as he lost his entire pension fund in a dodgy investment and has only just managed to build it up again with the help of compensation money.

Besides, there is so much I still want to write! I don't want to die before finishing that half-written memoir, I've only just started getting my poetry out on the market after completing my poetry MA, and I keep having ideas for new books, though some are reassuringly small ideas. What to do? The obvious solution is to stop filling in online forms, but they are not always easily avoided. Perhaps the answer is to retire now, catch up with a load of domestic admin, get bored and then un-retire when I feel the need to write again. The trouble is, age creeps on,  and how long will I be compos mentis enough to keep writing? In any case, whatever I write and/or get published, it will never be as much as I had hoped to accomplish. Which is why hubby has strict instructions to put on my gravestone (in Highgate Cemetery, no less, due to his family having a plot there with room for two), the words of Pontius Pilate in John 19:22: 'What I have written, I have written'. It'll have to do.

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