Mixed Media

Retiring Your Anxiety

The author of “Poised for Retirement: Moving From Anxiety to Zen” reveals the light at the end of the work tunnel

Interview by Holly Atkins

“Have I thought this out?”

The question kept Louise Nayer (MA ’76) up at night. For her, as for many people, the idea of retirement was fraught with anxiety. She longed to start a new phase in her life, but was loath to leave behind the joy and sense of accomplishment that her job as a writing professor brought her.

She fell in love with writing while studying under poets Robert Creeley and John Logan at UB. From there she went on to teach poetry to senior citizens before becoming an English and creative writing professor at City College of San Francisco for 27 years. She’s been the beneficiary of six California Arts Council grants, and her previous book, “Burned: A Memoir,” was the winner of the 2011 Wisconsin Library Association Literary Award and a finalist for a USA Book News Award.

Conflicted about her next step, Nayer channeled her concerns in a familiar way: She wrote a book about it. Here she discusses how she came to write “Poised” and what’s next on her agenda.

What made you want to write about your retirement experience?
The book started out as journal entries to help me cope with my anxiety, and as I was taking notes I thought, “This could be helpful to other people.” So it expanded from there. It had three different titles, went through a number of drafts and took years to get it out there. But now I feel this book can really benefit people who are considering retirement or who have recently retired.

Louise Nayer

You call “Poised” an emotional planning book. What does that mean?
Before retiring, many people have thoughts like: “I won’t have my work friends anymore.” “Will I feel isolated?” “What will it be like without my job identity?” My book helps people work through those thoughts and emotions. I also suggest people fill their days with something they really want to do. People are afraid of what they think of as “the void”—but there are no voids. Things get filled. Even if they’re taking care of grandkids or working part time, it can be an opportunity to rediscover things they used to love.

Was retiring harder than you expected it to be?
In the beginning, it was really exciting. I joined the San Francisco Writer’s Grotto and thought, “Wow, I can focus my time and energy on writing.” But there were tough things too. I got out a bit too early and still had debt. And sometimes when you retire and go into a new situation, it’s like going to a new middle school. You look around thinking: “Am I going to fit in? What do people think of me?” When you’re older, it can be tough to get out of your comfort zone, but it’s definitely worth it.

What would you say to people who want to retire but feel they’re not able to do so financially?
Every situation is unique. If you feel up to it, stay in your job a little longer. But if you’ve hit a wall and you’re exhausted physically and emotionally, as I was, it’s time to think of new ways to bring in money. My husband and I rent out our house part time, I do memoir classes, and my husband teaches history classes.

What’s next?
I have two books in the hopper. One is a memoir that includes a big scene in Buffalo where I put everything into a car and drive cross-country by myself. And years ago I started a novel, which is about two-thirds finished. I’m also going to lead workshops based on my book to help even more people through retirement.