In 2015, when I was approaching retirement age, after more than 50 years of work in Academia, I started taking a closer look at my life and work.
In the beginning the aim was purely personal — I simply wanted to learn to know myself better (see further the Personal aims page). As I began to go through my memories and read the piles of documents in the archive, however, I began to see the contours of a research project that might also have some public interest.
It’s a demographic fact that the proportion of older people in the population is steadily increasing. Also, it’s a fact that the level of education is increasing, and that the proportion of people spending their professional careers in creative work of different kinds – making art works, film and music, producing technologies and innovations, writing books and articles, building start-up companies, etc. – is growing too. As a consequence of these two trends, ‘the retired creative class’, i.e., the proportion of retired people who can look back on a life in production of creative works (oeuvres of different kinds), is growing rapidly.
In this project I focus on a core group within this growing ‘retired creative class’, namely former academic researchers, educators and scholars. People like me, who used to be employed in universities but have now left the career stage of their life behind and have become emeritus (hence then name of this website).
One of the issues that occupy the minds of many of us who have have spent a major part of our lives producing creative works is the meaning and legacy of our achievements (the life portfolio, the collected oeuvre). The achievements loom large in our retrospective awareness — we are what we produced — and for this reason many emeriti become engaged in autobiographical activities.
The scholarly aim of this project is to reflect on such autobiographical emeritus activities. How do members of ‘the retired creative class’ make sense of their careers and accumulated oeuvre? What role does the life vs. oeuvre play in these retrospective accounts? What kinds of autobiographies are we writing and what purposes do they serve?
Drawing on my privileged access to documents and memories from my own life, I will demonstrate, using my own life as an example, that memoir writing is a (both pleasurable and) meaningful emeritus activity, which can be used as a preparation for care of self and graceful ageing in the later stages of life in anticipation of physical and mental decline, and ultimately death.
Although the project focuses on the academic emeritus and the ‘retired creative class’, these reflections will hopefully be useful for broader segments of the ageing population as well.