Here’s an interesting take on self-esteem that WP_20140510_014recently wandered into my retirement life. See what you make of it. The basic dilemma, and it is a dilemma, was this. In order to raise self-esteem in retirement, and maybe at other life stages, you have to feel you are alive to the world of possibility. That you will take risks, try new things and so on. In fact like the lady in my recent blog who had sailed around the world, that you are prepared to be adventurous. Surely this builds self-esteem? Well, as always the answer is yes and no. And the ‘no’ is quite a big one. The ‘no’ is based around what happens when you fail? Failure, to state the bleedin’ obvious, damages self-esteem. Hmm.

Such was the background to my first jazz improvisation workshop (see above – none of these musicians is me) this weekend just gone and to which I referred briefly in my last blog about the ordinary life. Fool. Stay at home and take no risks, should have been my mantra. Retirement is a time for putting your feet up on a not too high coffee table and drinking a not too hot cup of tea. You get the point. But not me, oh no. Driven by this seemingly irresistible urge to find the missing link/s of retirement, the ‘there must be more to it than this’ line of thought, I decided I would play jazz. Ha.

Yes, there was a certain logic to this madness. Mainly that, after many months of sort of fulfilling my musical ambitions by collecting and playing guitars in the attic – alone, I wanted to try and play with other people. So far, so logical, Jim. What I wanted was a blues band of not very talented old men, what I got was a jazz orchestra of very talented, old men and one child. But I’m getting ahead of myself as usual.

I should have known it was going to be a hard WP_20140512_001day musically when I took the violin that I had recently bought from my sister-in-law out of its case and tried to do things with it. I don’t play violin but how hard can it be, right? Well, I may never know because no sooner had I begun to fiddle around with it than I felt an itching on my left arm right where the violin was. I began to scratch like you do and before long three enormous welts, is that the word, appeared. The photo of two of them shows them a couple of days later. I hadn’t the presence of mind to photograph them at the time, I was too puzzled / annoyed. Never did discover what attacked me, suffice it to say that I may when it/they attack again, as they surely will. But I digress, this is simply an amuse bouche for the main theme of this blog, namely the effect on one’s self esteem of trying to do something bold and failing miserably, which is what happened to me on Saturday.

Maybe being retired really does send you soft in the head. What made me think that I, who had never played a single note of guitar jazz, could just rock up to this established jazz workshop with people who had played their instrument for years, and just jam along. They say ignorance is bliss, this is wrong, ignorance is very likely highly damaging to your self-esteem. But all this was to come. I remained highly nervous but essentially clueless. Much agonising about which of my many guitars to take and the decision not to take an amp because obviously they would have such things there. Wrong, they did not, so I couldn’t play, at least not so anybody, myself included, could hear. This turned out to be a real plus, because I couldn’t have played along out loud if I, or they, could have heard my contribution, it  would have been that bad. So for two hours I sat like a potato (actually a potato might have done better) while all around me old men showed their skills. They had a great time. This was indeed a country for old men, but not, sadly, me.

The workshop had been sold (you pay £10 per workshop – no price at all for complete humiliation, you’ll agree) to me by a very nice lady as ‘friendly and supportive’ and that I, who had described myself in an email, as 65, played guitar a long time, not very good and never played a note of jazz, although I liked it. You couldn’t, at least, accuse me of over-selling myself. She replied, ah these fatal words, as ‘just the sort of person they were looking for’. So back to the potato, sat there feeling totally out of place, watching the piano player desperately for an idea of what was going off. I wasn’t helped by the ‘music’ sheet. It took me until after the session to realise that F-7 (the dash was in fact a squiggle), was F minor seventh rather than F. And that FΔ was F major. Well, you had to be there, preferably instead of me. I was so far out of my depth I couldn’t even see the surface. I won’t bore you with any more detail except to say that the ‘friendly and supportive’ was only partly correct. The rhythm section were chatty at the interval with the exception of a very serious drummer, the brass section were conspicuously absent from making me feel at home. But then who could blame them, who does this guy think he is? Etc.

At the interval, the piano player, in a genuine effort to be supportive, said ‘don’t worry, when I first started I couldn’t play a note. I asked how long ago was that? Oh about 10 years, he replied. I thought duck me, I’m 65, I probably haven’t got 10 years. But at least he tried to be helpful even recommending other classes that I might find more appropriate. It wasn’t patronising, it was kindness and all the worse for that. I woke up next morning, a Sunday of course, and felt quite deflated, it was like waking up after a typically bad Forest result. I thought to myself, my self-esteem does not feel raised at all, quite the opposite. I had put myself in harm’s way and this was the result. How silly I was.

Just to offer a bit of balance to this misery. When I returned from the workshop my daughter and partner were visiting. Eventually I confessed to what I had been doing. Number one daughter, her partner and Mrs SH all thought I had been brave and that I should be proud of myself for stepping outside my comfort zone. I have to say that after a week of trying to put a podcast together I felt that last week I had been out of my comfort zone pretty much all the time, and that, on the whole, I spent too much time in this zone, but that’s another blog – podcasting that is. Did I feel the ‘I gave it a go’ glow? Or ‘yes, I might have been crap but at least I was there’ warm feeling? Well, not really, and this brings me back to the dilemma I started with. To raise self-esteem is it better to have tried and failed or rather to have the sensible judgement not to try for the, likely to be, impossible? I don’t know, do you? This retirement business, at times it can seem like, in an effort to keep lively and motivated, your judgement goes right out of the window. Will I go back for workshop 2 in a couple of week’s time? And if I do, does that make me brave or stupid? And is there any difference between the two? I suppose the moral of the tale is don’t set the bar too high with your retirement challenges, which is a bit of a sad message in a way.

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