Our lives are mostly continuity. Days blur into a seamless river of time, broken only by a handful of true discontinuities that stand like dams against the flow of years, shunting our lives onto new and radically different courses.
Some of these are matters of fate and circumstance. Winning the lottery, getting a dream job, getting fired, losing a loved one. This year we’ve all been shaken by one of the most disruptive of all—a pandemic.
Other disruptions take the form of cultural milestones—rites of passage in the course of a modern life. Starting school, leaving home, graduating, getting a job, getting married, having a baby. These transitions seem almost sacramental. They transform our lives, but they also make us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. We look forward to them with equal parts anticipation and fear because they promise both possibility and uncertainty. They also remind us that the clock is ticking inexorably on our lives.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I now find myself on the brink of another of life’s sacramental passages—the one called retirement. By the time you read this, I will be at home, readjusting to a new life. And though I do feel some trepidation and wistfulness, I’m also excited about the prospect of focusing all my time and energy on my own writing and art, not to mention catching up on a lot of reading and, once this pandemic is done, having more freedom to travel.
I’ve gotten plenty of advice from friends who’ve walked this path before me, mostly about not repeating their mistakes. There are plenty of mistakes to be made, and I’m sure I’ll invent a few of my own. The best advice I’ve gotten, though, came from Professor Emeritus Richard Fass, who took my elbow one day and said with a wink: “Just remember: It’s a process.”
Which, I suppose, makes it like every other great milestone in life.
But I have to say that leaving this job is a bigger transition than most. I’m now in my 23rd year at Pomona—the longest I’ve ever worked or lived anywhere. This issue of Pomona College Magazine is the 65th I’ve had the privilege of designing and overseeing as either managing editor or executive editor. That number, I was surprised to discover, accounts for more than a third of the total since the very first PCM rolled off a press back in October 1963.
To that, I can only add: Thank you for putting up with me for so long.
When you retire, there are lots of sentimental “lasts’ to get through. This is one of them—the last one of these little essays I’ll ever write. Over the years, I’ve penned lots of them, usually about my take on something relevant to the magazine’s theme. In many of them, I’ve shared personal recollections and reflections from my own life—from childhood memories to the trials of parenthood to, in this case, saying goodbye to a career that I’ve mostly loved. I’ve done this, at the risk of oversharing, because I’ve always believed the universal is in the individual. I hope some of what I’ve written about my own life has resonated with yours.
Twenty-three years ago, in the very first of these little missives, I promised you a magazine that would respect your intelligence, and I noted that PCM’s mission should be to “inform, entertain and sometimes disturb. Like an old friend, it should be reliable, but it should frequently surprise you. It should make you think. In the Pomona tradition, it should challenge you.”
That charge is one that I now leave, with a high degree of confidence, for PCM’s next editor.