It’s been a while since I wrote about one of my key retirement goals, that of continued or life-long learning. Looking back over my blogs for my latest blog book project, more of which later, I realise how many of my learning blogs have been about trying to play jazz and even more about music generally – Celtic music, music theory, song-writing and so on. Let me bring you up to date on what I’ve been doing and am planning to do and, alongside that, the sub text of how setting challenges can impact on your retirement self-esteem.

My main focus, apart from a slight digression into Celtic music and the role of the piano, particularly in the form of a group called The Gloaming, stimulated by our Irish holiday, has been on jazz in general and my Otley jazz group specifically. At a very simple level I’ve been watching a lot of Youtube clips and trying to apply what I see / hear to the alternate Monday Otley get-togethers, where appropriate of course. Oh and reading the book in the photo. These Monday sessions have been going pretty well, I’ve got more confidence in my playing and, as a consequence, my self-esteem, always a tricky business, has been slowly improving, so far at least. But I’m not smug, good Lord no.

Perhaps, just maybe, with this improved self-confidence, I might have allowed myself to over-reach my skill levels. I say this because I’ve signed up for two events that I swore I would never take part in again. Time will tell if I’ve been silly and, in the case of the first event, it won’t be very much time, this coming weekend in fact. That’s when I’m taking part in a weekend workshop at Leeds College of Music. It’s a workshop I attended a couple of years ago and yes, I swore never again. And yet, I’m doing it again. Slow learner or brave goal-setter, we will see. In the case of the second event it will take a bit longer to learn any lessons – to the beginning of August.

Again this is an event I vowed, which is like swore but purer, never to go back to. The last summer school, for that is what it is, left me feeling distinctly unloved. Yes, I know it sounds pathetic, but I reckon that when you’re retired and your opportunities for feeling a sense of achievement are definitely reduced, it’s that much easier to be pulled out of shape by failure, perceived or otherwise. As I’ve written before I hate myself in this context for being so very needy but there it is, that’s how I feel. So summer school, no not for me thanks.

But then I got an email from the woman who organises it all and a splendid person she is, which is why when she asked me if I’d like to come along because, as she put it, it’s nice to have a keyboard player ‘in the mix’. She wasn’t going over the top about my playing ability but there was just enough of a hint of my contribution to appeal to my vanity. My ego was stroked just enough for me to agree to join again. I wrote in a previous blog all about how damaged I felt by the last experience so, if nothing else, it will be interesting to see if I cope any better with the same experience this year.

The other, and much more desirable, outcome would be to turn up at both events and feel that I had improved, if only in my own head. If I can come away from either with a sense of having toughed it out or even toughened up, improved or not, and reduced the sad feeling of neediness that I never felt in my working life, then, as they say, ‘job’s a good un’. I am convinced that, in potentially stressful situations, a person needs a plan as opposed to leaving the whole thing to chance or taking whatever the fates throw at you. That’s how you get hurt or so it seems to me. My broad plan is not to get pulled out of shape. What could possibly go wrong with such a simple plan?

So back to the big question, why do I choose to put myself in harm’s way now I’m retired in a manner that I wouldn’t have outside of work? An easy answer is that there were enough challenges in a work context – standing up in front of somewhat hostile audiences, for example – for me not to require any more outside of work. But now I’m retired and the need to challenge my well-being, continues, even after coming up to five years of retirement. What am I trying to prove I wonder?

I suppose it’s something along the lines of, just because I’m now retired I’m still the fine fellow I used to be even if I am fading a bit. True I could just lay back and take it easy I believe it’s called vegetating but that’s not for me, not yet at any rate.

I was wondering how to finish this blog then on Sunday in the papers there was an article, somewhat puzzling titled – Jazz is a horse you can ride out on, about a jazz saxophone player name of Kamasi Washington. He had a lot to say about jazz, for example – “jazz will continue to shape modern music as it has for decades … people are learning the value of what jazz represents … allowing multitudes of people to express themselves … Once you kind of get a taste of that it’s hard to go back.” This is pretty highbrow stuff and it’s a long way from the way playing jazz feels to me but then again maybe deep down, very deep down, my soul understands the ‘value of what jazz represents’ and that’s why I put myself through all this torment and that’s why I find it ‘hard to go back’ otherwise known as giving up. And there was I thinking that because I’m retired I have this need to try new challenges just to prove that my spirit is as strong as ever.

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