Retirement, it gives us old geezers (theoretically) so much time for reflection. OK, almost all of it, the results of this reflection, amounts to less than the proverbial hill of runner beans, but, well the opportunities are there. If you want them. Do I want them though? Welcome to retirement world, the land of opportunity or a continent of disappointment? Oh it’s a fine, fine line between bravery and stupidity, between cowardice (hence the white flag right) and sensible self-protection. This week has seen me fail twice in meeting life’s challenges or take two entirely proper decisions to preserve my sanity, depending on your point of view. That all sounds a bit dramatic, let me explain. After several months of agonising, of debating with myself and anybody else who cared to listen – mostly Mrs Summerhouse, I have given up my Monday night jazz class. With time for reflection, I ask myself, have I made the right decision. I’ll let you decide.The decision was a simple one, at least at one level, the pain / gain ratio just didn’t stack up. It’s true I was making some progress although, with an activity like learning to play jazz guitar, it’s hard to find any kind of objective measure of improvement. Without it it’s easy to be dragged down by the negative feelings each Monday night (and during the day with dreaded anticipation and Tuesday morning with embarrassing remembrance) brings. I always used to say to teachers when we planned a programme for improving a child’s behaviour, we need some clear measure of improvement or we will not believe the child is making any progress and then we’ll all get (unnecessarily) down-hearted. I was right then and it still applies now. I’ve got to the point this term that I just didn’t see, i.e. feel, enough progress for the amount of pain I was experiencing in this self-chosen area of retirement.
I wrote some time ago about setting challenges for oneself as a retired person. At first glance, setting yourself challenges seems like an entirely good thing for the retired person. I’d say it was almost mandatory. Challenges keep you at least mentally active and maybe physically active as well depending on the challenge. We know, from all that is written, that it is important for the retired person to keep active. What doesn’t get much air time is the impact on the self-esteem of the retired person when they are unsuccessful (at least in their own terms) in meeting these challenges. And I don’t want to hear any bollocks about the, it’s the taking part that counts. The weekly embarrassments of not being good enough in the company of others who were better than me, and I’ve written elsewhere about the additional complexities (I’ll call them that for now) of the effect of one’s peer group on the challenge itself, well they stack up and wear you down. Eventually you reach a point, as I did this week, and you decide, this is silly, I don’t have to do this, nobody, other than myself, is going to think any worse (or better) of me, for giving up the unequal struggle. Give it up. And I have and I generally feel much better for having done so. OK, a little guilt, a bit of a feeling of having copped out, but overall a feeling of great relief. Whether this feeling persists only time will tell.
By a twist of fate, so beloved of the big guy or whoever sorts these things out, the day after I had made my decision I, coincidentally, met a friend in the park while walking our dogs. He’s in a band and he told me that the band were playing locally on the coming Friday and, and here’s the twist, if I wished to make a guest appearance, he was sure the other band members wouldn’t mind as they had had guests before. Now, from what I can gather, the kind of music the band play is very different to my ex- jazz class. The two tunes he thought I might join in with were Moon Dance by Van Morrison and Autumn Leaves (coincidentally the tune we had been playing at the jazz class but in a very different form, i.e. the chords were harder). This could have been my perfect side step from one form of music – difficult – to another form –easier. That was my first thought. My second was, I don’t know this band, this audience, this location, nor their version of the tunes easier though they may theoretically be. So after some worry about more cowardice in the face of adversity I told my chum, thanks but no thanks, maybe another time, blah, blah. We agreed I would come along to the gig, in aid of Syrian refugees and see whether I thought we were a fit for some time in the future. A common sense decision or another sign of a complete lack of moral fibre? Again, you decide, I can’t.
I haven’t given up jazz guitar altogether, in fact I have a one to one lesson tomorrow. This is much easier and more satisfying but also considerably more expensive as you might expect. My tutor, call him Dom, also runs another workshop that I have been to once but as they are on alternate Tuesdays (Mrs Summerhouse’s yoga night and who will look after the pups?) and Fridays, a night of the week I find it desperately difficult to drag my sad self out of doors although we will go out this Friday to the gig, so getting up and out on a Friday is not impossible but again whether this effort is worth all the pain, it’s hard to say. Again time will tell.
So here we are in this winter wonderland called retirement. The land with time on your hands, time to seek out and accept new challenges, to do all those things that a lack of ambition in these areas had prohibited before. And what do I do with these opportunities? I walk away (I did stick it out for more than a year). It all comes back to that thorny old issue of self-esteem. An area that retirement, in my experience at least, can do severe damage to. Which means a person needs to be careful in setting up challenges. It’s not to say one shouldn’t engage in challenges as a retired person but just be careful, that’s all I’m saying, they can damage your mental health.