Wednesday, June 10, 2015


I retired the first of April.  Up until then I had imagined I would keep working as long as I felt I was making a contribution.  I was never one to distinguish much between work and not-work.  Since I enjoyed my profession, thought of it as part of who I was, and it was something I viewed as making the world a slightly better place, why stop doing it?  Of course we all know what they say about our plans.

The agency I worked for had been changing steadily over the past few years, and not for the good.  It was not the same place as sixteen years ago when I started.  Over that period there was a steady storm of cuts at the Federal and state level to programs that funded what I did: assist developers with designing and developing housing for people with disabilities.  This was the most difficult to house population, and the most expensive.  So when state and Federal budgets were cut, programs that targeted this population suffered the most.

The budget cuts precipitated a phenomenon I think of as the agency death spiral, kind of like the neuronal cascade of death.  In response to cuts in program funding, management did not become creative in finding new products to serve new customers, but rather cut programs back to fit the new, reduced funding levels.  Once this started to happen, staff that didn't agree with this strategy started to leave and staff that only cared about a paycheck stayed, and the agency became even more risk averse and committed to serving safer, more affluent populations, prompting more good staff to leave, and on and on until my personal tipping point was reached and one day I realized there was no one left who remembered why I was hired, or cared enough about special needs populations to fight for them. So I announced my retirement.  They wanted to have a reception for me, but I declined.  I didn't trust myself to not make some comments to some people that I would regret later. 

This work is part of me, though, so I will continue to do it.  I have created a company, Living At Home LLC, to provide design and construction management services for residential accessibility, energy conservation, and hazard remediation.  Essential elements for allowing individuals as they age or experience illness or accidents, to continue living at home (get it?).  My website is at Sparks Architecture.  I have a particular interest in the design of accessibility solutions for older homes in urban settings, which means my clients, in contrast to my career up to this point, will be well-to-do.  I hope there will be funds available to make housing accessible, affordable, and safe, for low-income Americans, but the way things are going I'm not optimistic.

I would be remiss if I didn't go a bit further, knowing I'm going to offend some, but I've never approved of people who criticize government actions without differentiating one party from another.  The cuts in programs that fund housing for the poorest, most needy Americans that have occurred continuously over the past 15 years have been perpetrated by Republicans, and would have been worse if not for the objections and opposition by Democrats.  And what makes it even worse in a state like Kentucky is that a majority of poor and disabled adults vote for Republicans, and the more they vote for them, the more the programs they rely on are cut.  In my nightmare imaginings I see the last poor, disabled person left alive in the state, staggering out of the last homeless shelter, carried into an inaccessible voting location, and voting for a Republican who has promised to close that last shelter.  So, I have retired.  I admit defeat.  I no longer have the energy to rage against the dying of the light.


  1. Good for you Jim. I talk with friends about it but I likely will be going another 10 years in my current profession, programming.

    1. Thanks Dean. I've spent all but three years of my professional life in the public sector, so this new business is something different for me. So far I'm enjoying the freedom of it. And if it doesn't succeed, at least I will have tried something I've thought about for years. I hope the remainder of your professional career goes well. It sounds like a challenging field.

  2. Congratulations! I'm impressed that you have the ability, energy and vision even after your stroke to pursue this.

    I'm also puzzled and sad about the dismantling of programs for the people most need help.

    1. Thanks Grace. I'm lucky that my stroke left me intact cognitively, and didn't do too much damage physically. Unfortunately, there is a sizable segment of our elected officials who get elected by promising tax cuts, so when the inevitable spending reductions occur, the easiest path is to cut the programs with the least powerful constituencies: those that benefit the poor and disabled. I hope this course can be reversed, but don't see any sign of it.

  3. Congratulations on your retirement! My husband and I retired 2 years ago, and life is so much more pleasant - he still spends lots of hours designing electronic gadgets around the house, and I write. Like you, both of us had professions that were inmate parts of us, the perfect match to our skills and interests. For you to continue designing for the disabled sounds like your perfect match.

    Also, I'm from the liberal state of Massachusetts, but also see that you're right - it is often the weakest and least-connected constituents who lose out when budgets are cut.

  4. Thanks Barb. My wife is planning on working for a few more years. So far, I'm enjoying retirement, but it is taking some getting used to. The fact that I'm continuing to work in the same field as before helps a lot. Good luck with your writing.

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