14 September 2022

If I were you, I wouldn’t start from here

All sorts of things happen as you get older. Experiences will vary of course, but most of us will see a shrinking of horizons. There are all sorts of reasons. Physical frailty, loss of family and friends, declining incomes, lack of day to day contact at work, they all have an impact. Add in the pandemic and it is easy to become withdrawn and inward looking.

No. I haven’t got confused, it isn’t #musicmonday, but this seems to get the substance of this post over pretty effectively.

I’m speaking from direct experience here. Until about ten years ago, I was still reasonably active, within the limits of my life-long disability. I even left the house occasionally! I was attending a printmaking course at a local college, I went to exhibitions and shows. Then an acute problem with my foot drastically reduced my mobility and over the past year, just as the pandemic restrictions eased, it got worse. Now I really have limited horizons, both physically and metaphorically.

What can you do in circumstances like this? This is a bit late if you are already in such a position, but my best advice would be to prepare. Make the most of your opportunities while you can. I would have said travel, but in our present world that may not be a good idea, certainly if it involves long haul flights. I did manage to see many of the places on my personal wish list, like San Francisco, the Grand Canyon, New York, Paris, Carcassonne, but many I never made it to. When I was much younger, family holidays were always a balance between returning to favourite places or seeing something new.

Outside expanding your physical horizons through travel, you need to work at stopping your mental horizons from shrinking too. I posted a few days ago about my eclectic tastes in music. Even so, I know I have huge gaps, but having always had such wide tastes, I can continue on a voyage of discovery, finding new artistes and revisiting old ones. Another recent post was for example, partly about rediscovering Joni Mitchell.

I’ve always read widely, not just fiction, but also history, politics, philosophy, science, poetry. This post includes a reference to some of my recent reading. If you have poor eyesight, use e-book readers like Kindle or Kobo or read on your PC or Tablet. This helps too, if you have problems physically holding a book. Sadly it doesn’t work with one of my passions which is art books – not ‘how-tos’ but books about specific artists.

Talking about art books brings me to art I only really took it up seriously in my 50s. I wish I had started much earlier. I now have a permanent studio space – well OK it is a spare bedroom, but it contains and etching press, all my art materials, a work table and a studio easel. After my foot issues stopped me using my etching press, I started using a new technique called gel printing which I have now done almost exclusively ove the past few years. In an earlier period of inactivity I did a lot of digital work.

I suppose what this all boils down to is one simple message. When you have the chance, make the most of the opportunities available to you. Keep fit, keep mobile, but equally important keep mentally active. Keeping your brain working will see you through many of the problems of physical disability and frailty. Not always – I know from bitter experience that chronic pain makes focussing on anything else very hard.

Handling pain is another post perhaps, but this is another area where mental resources are still a help. Having the capacity to distract yourself works surprisingly well. Do something that you can get lost in, whether a complex philosophical argument or a complex thriller, doesn’t matter. If you are mobile, do something with your hands.

There’s a joke, often set in Ireland, about a traveller asking a local for directions to a specific place. The answer ‘if I were you, I wouldn’t start from here’ is often presented as stereotyping the Irish as stupid. There are of course lots of other interpretations. For me, though, it is about the journey, not the destination. Journeys need preparation. Prepare for your journey through life as much as any journey. Gather the resources you need in advance.

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