There’s an awful lot of, often conflicting, advice available about how a person can increase their chances of having a happy / productive retirement. One piece of advice that seems to induce a high level of agreement among retired people and those who advise us, is – keep active both physically and mentally. By keeping active we reduce the chances of acquiring those, most marvellous, of old-age conditions, dementia, Parkinson’s etc, etc. There’s no doubt that this is what I have been trying to do in the three years nearly that I have been retired. Setting oneself challenges seems a mere hop, skip and a jump away from this business of keeping active. I admit that my physical challenges have been definitely in the modest camp. They amount to taking the pups for two, one hour walks each day and a little, just recently, in the way of DIY. There is a little bit of a cross-over around my guitar / piano and now drum playing (to which I will return later) in the sense that I find it increasingly difficult to get my fingers to do what my brain tells them but there is a degree of physicality to the process.
But there’s a caveat (isn’t there always or is it just me?) to this setting challenges business. It’s the question in the title. At what point do we cross the fine line from positive, healthy challenge to negative, stress-generating anxiety. Is the challenge we have set ourselves so filled with worry and anxiety that it ceases to be a sensible and positive retirement activity and becomes a source of potential failure that runs through our nocturnal brains every night as the challenge approaches. As it inevitably does no matter how long ago we signed up to the idea on the basis that the activity was so far in the future, it would probably never arrive. It does, it has.
I ask the question because I have done something either very brave or (more probably) very stupid. Those of you who have read these blogs before will perhaps remember me writing about my Monday night jazz classes. The ones I gave up because they were causing me so much stress. You can if you wish re-visit these blogs if you want to remind yourself of the specifics of my pain and the reasons why I eventually, after about a year and a half, gave up these classes altogether with no intention of ever returning to them. And it felt good and it felt like very much the right decision for me. So what’s the problem?
Well, by the time you read this blog, this coming Tuesday I will (unless I’ve walked out and kissed goodbye to my £220 investment) be one day into a jazz summer-school. This is like returning to the Monday night workshop only at least ten times worse. Not just one evening but 5 days, 10 til 5 of jazz tuition. The opportunity to fail embarrassingly has never been so great. It begs the question – why? And why again. I know that, on one hand, the motivation to learn new skills remains one of my key retirement values and, try as I might, since giving up the jazz, I haven’t found any other ‘learning new skills’ opportunities. Yes, there’s tile laying at the Derbyshire cottage and leaf-spraying at the vineyard and yes, I learn a little bit more (usually against my wishes) about running one’s own gardening business, but none of the above are the kind of learning activities I had in mind when, on carefully considering my retirement plans, I decided I needed some form of learning new skills.
I like the intellectual challenge of learning about jazz, all those new chord shapes (I think). I like the fact that jazz allows for the element of improvisation (aka doing what you want when it’s your turn to solo) rather than as with classical music rehearsing a piece over and over until it’s note perfect. I really like the idea of the comradeship (although you will remember this was in very short supply on Monday nights) that comes with making music with others. All this kind of thinking must have been going on in my brain when I made the decision, all those months ago, to have a crack at the summer school run by the Monday night people. In those intervening months I have changed my mind many times but, as of now (Sunday morning), I’m still going. Brave or plain foolish? Ask me in a couple of days.
To say it was a decision easily made, as you might guess, would not be the case. In fact, in making the decision, I have looked for potentially less painful options but which would meet some or all of the criteria above, as to why I like jazz. Right from the beginning Leslie, the lady who organises the Monday night classes and this summer school, was asking for drummers (and also bass guitarists, another story) as the class was lacking in these areas. The implication also seemed to be that, as currently constituted, the class had plenty of guitarists. Over the course of a few weeks and two or three of this kind of email from Leslie, a cunning plan began to take shape in my head. I would offer myself as a drummer rather than a guitarist. It is a little known fact that in my teens what I really wanted was to be the drummer in our band (The King Bees) and not the pianist I sometimes was. But being able to afford a drum set in my youth was out of the question. The only boy in the whole of my school who had a drum set was on account of his father having got compensation for an industrial accident. So he became the drummer, not because he could play, he was rubbish, but because he had the set and possession, as we know, is nine point of the law of being in a rock band. Didn’t stop me bashing about at home with a large pair of wooden knitting needles a magazine and the guard from an electric fire. Fortunately, that again is another story, one probably never to be told.
So 50 years after my first incarnation I would reinvent myself as a jazz drummer. Only one small problem, I didn’t have a drum set. Note past tense. So I bought one. Admittedly one of those electronic versions (as in picture above, sorry it’s a poor photo, I was a bit short of time), I didn’t want to scare the pups, Mrs Summerhouse or the neighbours, in that order. So you put on your chosen CD, the headphones and away you go. Didn’t sound too bad given I hadn’t attempted to play drums in those 50 years. Yes, this might just work. It might just tick the boxes. But then you know what God, or whoever decides these things, is like. You no sooner get your cunning plan up and running but he messes it up. Contacting Leslie to tell her the good news, before I could utter the words, I am the answer to your drumming problem, she tells me she now has three drummers. Bugger. This being retired business, as I’ve said before, is proving outright difficult.