A Man of Independent Means

About

This is an edited transcripts of Atanas Radenski's talk at his retirement party on December 12, 2018, SCST, Chapman University.

The Talk

Introduction

Good afternoon, dear colleagues and friends.

At Chapman, I have spent over 40 % of my academic career. Indeed, I have been here for 17.5 years, out of 42. This is quite longer than the time I have worked for any other organization anywhere.

Why have I remained here the longest in my career? I believe - because of you. You have been supportive, understanding, patient and friendly. Thanks for being here during all those years and thank you for being here now.

Let me also express my gratitude for this gathering to everyone who made sure it happened: Andrew, Eric, Michael, Drew, Michaela, Dana, Sarah, and anybody else. And thank you all for coming.

I would like to take a look at three questions that I have been asked often since three years ago I decided to go with phased retirement.

Q1: "Why did you decide to retire?"

Q2: "What are you going to do?"

Q3: "Are you happy?"

Before I answer the above questions, let me make an essential clarification: I do not think that I am "retiring". I think of this as "becoming a man of independent means". I believe that by the end of my talk you will understand clearly what I mean.

Now I will go forward with comments on those questions.

Q1: "Why did you decide to retire?"

I had more than one reason.

I love Southern Utah. It offers the most amazing scenery anywhere in the world. That is why I enjoy walking and camping there. Let me tell you that I do not usually go to the big national parks (which I call national parkings) like Zion, Bryce, and Arches which are beautiful of course but so overdeveloped and overcrowded that they do not offer much solitude. There are many other interesting areas, beautiful red rock canyons that offer historic ruins and ancient rock art in the midst of outstanding nature, areas that are less visited but not less beautiful – that's the kind of places that I enjoy.

The problem with the Southern Utah desert is that it can be visited comfortably mainly in April and October. October has been out of the question for years because it always falls in the Fall semester. April was possible when our Easter break fell in April.

A few years ago Chapman changed the Easter break to a Spring break and fixed it on the 8th week of the spring semester, always in the second half of March. In Utah, it can snow in March. In March, one could perhaps go down the Grand Canyon in Arizona, but even there, winter weather can make a surprising comeback. Anyway, after the break change I could not go to Utah anymore. Then it was the first time I began thinking of retirement.

***

Today, the average life expectancy in the USA is about 79 years. For me, this would mean 11 more years of expected life from today. You know, of course, that your life expectancy depends on your gender and your current age. (My mother, who is now over 95, obviously cannot have a life expectancy of 78.)

The US Social Security Administration maintains a useful site where you can check your current life expectancy. You enter your gender and your birthdate and the government tells you for how long they expect you to live. I checked and I was informed that currently, my life expectancy is about 85 years.

Right now I am 68, therefore a life expectancy of 85 means that I am statistically expected to live 17 more years. This means that I have already lived 80% of my life and I only have 20% remaining.

This feels like I have been at a 5-hour party where I have mostly catered for others and all of a sudden I have realized that the party will end in just one hour. And you know… there will be no another party, ever!

So, the question is how to spend the very last hour of the party.

Is it worth spending it grading homework?

I do not think so.

Q2: "What are you going to do?"

Sometimes people ask me: "Aren't you going to miss teaching?"

I believe that retirement is not a problem if you have interests beyond your immediate job.

I know people who are dedicated to their daily jobs and who have no other passions. I am not saying they are bad workers. In fact, they can be fabulous workers, with no side interest but their direct job duties. If such people retire, they may feel lost, left with nothing to do. In fact, I know of someone who retired hastily and then, on the first day of his retirement, he was horrified because he did not know what to do with himself.

In contrast, people who have interests beyond their direct duties can retire quite happily because they will have plenty to do, no doubts about that.

***

Now I am going to tell you the traffic cop story.

Do you know what a traffic cop is?

Yes, this is an officer, in uniform, who stands on a little pedestal in the middle of a busy crossing and regulates traffic – with a baton and a whistle.

Nowadays, you can see traffic cops only in emergencies but when I was a child, traffic cops were very common. Regulating traffic all day long was their daily job.

One day, an experienced traffic cop bought a lottery ticket. Everybody bought a lottery ticket because the jackpot was huge.

And he hit it. He won the multimillion jackpot.

And he decided to quit.

Then his friends asked him:

"Why are you retiring? Aren't you afraid that you are going to miss your job?"

The traffic cop thought about it and said:

"Well… Yes… You are right. It may happen. One day it may feel as if I missed my job."

His friends said:

"What are you going to do then?"

Then the traffic cop told them:

"Here is what I am going to do. I will by myself a crossing… my own crossing. Any time when I miss my job, I will go there and regulate traffic. I will not do it for a paycheck. I will do it just for fun."

My own plan is like the traffic cop's plan, although it is a bit more complicated because I have not won the jackpot yet.

Here is what I will do in case I miss teaching. I will first win the lottery. Then I will buy myself a small college and anytime I miss teaching, I will go there and teach just for fun.

***

Work in the forefront of computing has been central in my life. Back in my native Bulgaria, under an authoritarian government that did not let me travel abroad, to leading western universities, work was the only thing to keep me alive. Here, in the US, work was the vehicle for building a new life for my family.

In recent years, I have relied on the Amazon cloud, AWS for my research and coursework. Nowadays, AWS offers a variety of modern machine learning services. Amazon gives me free credit for AWS use and I will possibly continue to use their cloud computing platform. It will be fun to see what can be done with their emerging machine learning stack.

***

I will continue traveling and hiking in the Western US, to Bulgaria, to Europe and the world. I will be able to go to Southern Utah in both April and October. Is not this wonderful?

***

When a few years ago I told my wife Roumi that I wanted to write a novel, she said: "Ah, a novel... Then you are ready to retire because every old man wants to write a novel."

I began writing, anyway, in my native Bulgarian.

When I handed her the draft of my first chapter, however, she liked it and said: "You got talent." She became involved as a volunteer muse and helped me finish the book, "Party at the President's". The book was published in 2016 in Sofia. It was a successful debut novel.

Now I am near finishing a second one, titled "Snohomish". I hope to have it published within a year in Bulgarian. Then I plan to translate it in English and see if I can engage an agent and then a publisher in the US.

***

Creative writing gave me new visibility in Bulgaria and beyond. I made new friends, friends of the kind I did not have before - writers, publishers, poets, translators, journalists.

I got to know some of my readers:

  • a judge who knows the history of aviation and war;
  • a psychologist who does great photos;
  • a well-read woman who worked in sustainable agriculture;
  • many others.

I have intensive correspondence with my new acquaintances and friends. It has been very rewarding. It opened a whole new world for me.

A well-known journalist read my first novel and liked it. Then he included a chapter about me and my family in his own book, a book about Bulgarians who live abroad.

Then a famous television host, singer, and producer got acquainted with that journalist's book and invited me to visit Sofia. He organized a panel for "future politician casting" and I sat on the panel. He invited me to his show as well. Others, he addressed by name. But for me… he always called me "professor", with full respect, I felt.

At Chapman, I have always been called "Atanas" and I have enjoyed that. But now, in Bulgaria, people call me "the professor". This caught up (although it sounds a bit funny, as if there were no other professor there :-) ).

So, I am retiring and I am "the professor". This is actually beautiful. We, professors, are like colonels and generals. A colonel is a colonel for life. A general is a general for life. A professor is a professor for life.

I am retiring, but I am a professor for life.

***

We leave in houses which we need to maintain. Proper housekeeping takes a lot of time.

Our souls and minds live in our bodies. We need to maintain our bodies more than we need to maintain our houses. One can move to a new house but one cannot move to a new body.

Proper body-keeping requires much time. You may think, much time for exercise. Notice, however, that maintaining your body does not only involve exercise. It also means giving enough sleep and rest to your body, feeding it right, things like this.

So, body-keeping is something that everybody should do. Most people get enough time to do it only after they retire.

***

I will spend more time with my wife. We plan to stay in California.

Q3: "Are you happy?"

Yes, I am.

Erich Kästner, a well-known 20th-century German author, wrote delightful books for children that became popular with adults as well. He said once that “for some people, life is like a sausage” that you eat. At each birthday you byte a piece from your sausage and it is gone forever. At mid age, you got only half sausage and all that you are left with at old age is the sausage's miserable end.

I consider passing of life differently.

For me, life is like a cake that I work on. When I was born, I started with a clean, empty cake plate. The meaning of my life has been building that cake, layer by layer.

I built the first layer of my cake in Bulgaria. I got educated and became a professor, and also maintained a family and raised children. In Bulgaria, I built the solid fundament of my cake.

At 40, I got a one-year appointment at a US university and then my family and I, we migrated to the US. I worked hard to establish myself professionally and to build a new life for all of them. In 27 years in the US, I built the second layer of my cake.

Now it is time for me to move on and continue with the top layer of the cake. Doing this already is a whole new life for me, my life in literature.

Q1 Revisited: "Why did you decide to retire?"

Here is my last but not the least important reason to retire: I wanted to be active, and I could not be active enough by doing the same thing all over again. I knew that to remain active, I needed to take a new challenge and do something new.

Conclusion

I have had a great time at Chapman University, thanks to all of you. I recently learned that you have nominated me to become a Chapman University's Professor Emeritus. Pending administration approval, I will be happy to continue to be around. Thank you again.

December 12, 2018, SCST, Chapman University, Orange, California

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