Something a little strange happened recently. I was emailed about speaking at a conference on a topic I was very familiar with. I said no. Less than a week later I was sent a message about doing a short book chapter on another topic I had also got a good background in. I said no again. I have always been excited by such invitations, whenever they had come, throughout my career, but somehow felt that just a year on from retirement this was the right decision. Around the same time I withdrew from a European email group on community sanctions feeling the time was right to do so. What motivated these decisions?
I think this is a mixture of three things – loosening connections, energy and changing priorities. Retirement has taken me away from a routine associated with my career. Whatever specific tasks I was involved in I would be looking at what was new, horizon scanning the latest journals, discussing with colleagues, attending conferences, speaking at events, learning and developing. That routine is broken now though through my role with Probation Institute I have maintained more specific connections around that work. But that wider engagement does not now happen. It’s surprises me how quickly these routines have gone from my life. I have stopped subscriptions to journals I no longer read and though I retain access to the university library do not access it as I once did. So in just a year or so my connections are definitely loosening and in some cases simply no longer open or attractive to me. But I don’t think that is the full story.
Captured under the notion of ‘energy’ I think my health has meant my energy levels are simply not what they were. I find a full day at an event quite challenging and some days attempts to read and research are limited by what my doctor’s call ‘muzzy headiness’. I simply cannot find the mental energy to pursue everything I would want to. So I select out what is important and focus my energies on researches connected to probation. On good days that stimulation remains strong and important to me and I still manage to work effectively for about two days a week and still enjoy the challenge of a world which I have inhabited for over forty years. The ‘muzzy headiness’ can result in losing the odd word or phrase which is partly age I guess, but is largely down to the treatments over 5 plus years which have come with limited cognitive impairments. I have always had very good recall so it can be frustrating to fail to grasp a simple word or phrase and I guess as a result I feel less confident about public speaking now than I ever have done.
The third change is though one of changing priorities. I want to do different things with my time and my big task, my only real bucket list item, is to write a novel. So I need space when not muzzy to move forward on this project. Paradoxically some of the problems I have encountered above also apply to writing a novel. I started well enough back in 2012 and wrote around 60000 words. I thought I was working on a restricted timeline and when I realised I had more time my focus changed and it went on the back burner. What I did not fully realise is that as time moved on the very qualities I needed for this task were affecting my work as described above. It became not just a matter of time but one of being in the right frame of mind, clear-headed, energised and not muzzy. So how might I go forward and can I go forward?
After five years I began to assemble the novel into an identifiable structure. This knitting together of discrete sections/chapters was the real test of whether a novel was possible. It is autobiographical but intended to be a novel not an autobiography and this remains one of the biggest tussles in my head. I approached two close friends whose views I respect to give me some comments on my progress on the first 40000 words of the book. I knew they would be honest and I was prepared for the feedback or so I thought.
It was a ‘tough love’ approach which started with questioning of the title and I received very detailed and thorough feedback. It was all very helpful and constructive and I could not hide behind a view that they had got it wrong. But it brought to the fore how much time it will take to complete this project in any way that might make it publishable. Given my narrative so far this is where the rub is. Can I find enough good time when energy levels are high and my muzzy headiness is low to give it the attention it needs. I wish I knew the answer to this question. I have let so much go this year to enable my life to have enough time and direction for the remaining tasks and enjoy myself. This is a real conundrum which has so far not produced a satisfying answer though I have a strategy.
I want to have a go at the section critiqued to see if I can answer a few of the major queries and deal with many of the minor queries such as my overuse of the exclamation mark!!! At heart both my readers though there was a novel there and they were encouraging. But I am beginning to change my priorities and if I remain well this coming autumn and winter will be the time to make a decision and either go for it or quietly close it down. On good days I want to keep going, on bad days I don’t care and most days I am happy to try but find other things to do too. I have loved blogging this past half year as it’s a couple of hours of concentration and I hope I am saying challenging things for my readers. Is that enough?
My week in photos.