I am sometimes asked why, as a retired person, I bother to write this blog. Isn’t it all too much trouble? Why don’t I just relax, take it easy and enjoy my retirement? I must admit there are occasions when I feel the same way. A week, for example, when I don’t have the foggiest idea what I’m going to write about. These weeks usually see me trawling through my diary for ideas I’ve jotted down and forgotten about or, occasionally, flipping through any odd articles I might have torn out with a ‘maybe that might make a blog’ thought. At these times I do indeed wonder why I bother.
The simple answer is of course that, when it goes well, which is most of the time, I actually enjoy writing this blog. Call it a hobby, a weird one maybe, but probably not that much weirder than the kind of retirement activities many of us retired people engage in. It’s enjoyable because I like words and I like language and I like the act of creating something that has, hopefully, never existed before and may even live on. Creativity has always been an important value for me and writing is a convenient way of being creative.
Then there’s the element of success that periodically comes along. Psychologists call it intermittent or is it variable (you’d think I’d remember) reinforcement and it is said that this form of reinforcement is more powerful than the more predictable (fixed interval?) type of reinforcement, the sort where an action is rewarded every time, which you habituate to as we ex-psychologists say. So thank you to all my readers for not posting too many positive comments which would run the risk of de-motivating me. I get just enough comments to make my writing a positive experience (although if you wanted to send more, feel free). I don’t know whether it’s a product of growing older but opportunities for success seem to get less frequent, so I like to hang on to the ones I’ve got.
Next, a very common motivation for writing and one I’ve referred to several times in these blogs, writing as therapy. I often used to suggest to my ‘clients’ that the best way of dealing with all the crap life throws at us is to write it out of our heads. There are definitely times when there’s too much stuff going off for it all to be contained in our heads. So get rid of it. Write it down and better still, look at the list you’ve generated and decide a) whether action is required and if so b) what that action is. Anyway this is not the time for this approach in any detail, suffice it to say that there have been many times in the four and a half years I’ve been writing this blog when I have felt the need to write as therapy.
So far so good, but these are my most obvious reasons for writing this blog. If I look further / deeper are there other reasons? I’ve said that I sometimes save little tit-bits from the media as a prompt for future writing. Here was one I wrote down from last week’s papers. Writer Zadie Smith said the reason she writes is so that she ‘might not sleep-walk through my entire life’. Of course I’m not sure what she meant by this but it sounded interesting to me. I take it she meant that by writing about her life it made her more aware of the life she was leading, brought her life alive so to speak. I think I do this a bit, writing about our Irish holiday means I can go back enjoy the good bits over again and maybe learn from the not so good parts – maybe.
It is generally assumed, or at least by me, that we write things down so that we will remember any important events in our life. Maybe in much the same way we take photos. Certainly I’m guessing that there has never been a greater inclination for us to take photos now that we can keep them in digital form and share them world-wide as Mrs Summerhouse (not one of nature’s born technocrats) sent a photo to our son in OZ via WhatsApp was it, instantly received and responded to. I digress, we write to remember goes one theory but perhaps a more interesting version is we write in order that we may forget.
This version of maybe why I write was brought into focus when I was reading one of my Christmas presents the other day. The book, for that’s what it was, is entitled At the Strangers’ Gate by Adam Gopnik about his life in New York. He writes as follows: ‘To remember is to keep alive, they say piously. But to remember is to entomb, to inter emotion, at least a little. At least I have never committed a vital memory, a moment of bliss or confusion, to paper or pixels without seeing it dim a little in my own recall, even evaporate entirely. The living emotion seeps into the page, where it fossilizes.’ He much preferred the pleasure of anticipation – ‘someday I’ll have to write that down’, to the ‘it’ being written down – ‘written down it’s over and done’.
I’m not too sure I like this view of writing, I’d be quite upset if I thought that by writing about past events in this blog or even in my daily diary they were ‘over and done’, written down with the intention of being forgotten about. I suppose, in some ways, it might depend on how often you revisit your writings. I admit that even though I’ve written in my diary every day for the last nearly 40 years, there are large sections of my writing that never get re-visited. And this is true even of the nearly 500 blogs I’ve written in the last 4 and a half years. But, that said there are years I do reclaim by re-reading and blogs that I stumble across that give me some pleasure, so that’s good enough I think. I write I enjoy.
That will do for now I think. I’m writing this on a cold and wet morning. Mrs Summerhouse has gone out for coffee with one of her friends and I’m hunkered down with the dogs, writing this. It feels like the right thing to be doing and in retirement I don’t always have that feeling.