I don’t know about you but most of my New Year resolutions are broken fairly swiftly. In the case of those involving chocolate, fairly instantaneously. My children have even taken to hiding the Bendicks bittermints from me, fearful of their potentially cataclysmic effect on my blood sugar levels. It goes without saying that their resourcefulness in sequestering said confectionery is only matched by my determination to find the little blighters. Each year they underestimate the lengths to which I’m prepared to go.
This kind of willpower and determination could, of course, be of genuine value if turned to more elevated causes. I could be out on the street corner rattling tins for the charities of my choice. Or fashioning bookshelves from MDF. Or any of the thousand and one more useful or ennobling expenditures of my time than devising a search and rescue plan for after-dinner mints. Albeit very good after-dinner mints.
When I retired last year from active service at the Cure Parkinson’s Trust, it was for a number of reasons. Most ostensibly, I wanted to spend more time with my children (whether they liked it or not), having adventures and so forth. But, of nearly equal weight, I wanted to use my time in the range of more creative pursuits, writing in particular. This has been a partial success. My children bought me an Art Pass for Fathers Day which gains me free access to a great many art galleries and museums throughout Britain. Most notably, they elected to buy me a +1 version so that I could take a guest each time. I think they draw straws to see who will be my +1. It’s the thought that counts.
The writing has been rather more challenging. Challenging in the sense of has-not-even-written-a-single-word. I have had the most profound sense of apathy and of writers block for several months. Although I have opinions on many things (I see your eyes roll upwards), I no longer feel the compelling urge to convey those to paper. I am happy to keep my counsel rather than puff out my chest and go looking for a fight. This is unlike me. Normally the drive to convey and convince is strong. If I had an opinion, it was important not only that you knew it but were also persuaded by it. And if that meant cracking a few eggs along the way, so be it. But it doesn’t work out like that any more. I am happy to hold my tongue rather than pick fights or batter my gentle readers into philosophical submission.
To be honest, I am at a loss to explain the sudden passivity but I do put it down to retirement. A neighbour (retired) told me that he has never been so busy and wonders how he fitted everything in before retiring. Certainly there is a sense that activities expand to fill the time allotted. It took me nearly 3 hours to change a plug the other day although I pin much of the time expended on my Parkinson’s especially the loss of dexterity. Still three hours is a long time. And this runs counter to my ethos. I have never liked to waste time. It’s a commodity in limited supply and your own supply of it is only apparent at the very end. It’s easy to worry about this if you are the worrying type (as I am). I think of it as a sort of temporal anxiety.
The irony is that it is possible, by being concerned to fill one’s time usefully, simply to fill it with temporal anxiety. And although one has indubitably filled one’s day with thinking, it’s not of the productive type. There is a saying to the effect that one should live every day as though it were one’s last. I’m not sure I entirely go along with that but I do believe that one should find a way of using time effectively. But how?
So compelling is this conundrum that it has even been suggested that I come out of retirement, essentially reversing last year’s decision. Although I can see the rationale, I don’t believe that’s a solution, for a number of reasons. But it does draw attention to one of the clear differentiations between work and retirement – the need to be useful. At home, in the bubble of retirement, one can be as useless as one wishes. The same philosophy, applied at work, swiftly curtails your employment prospects. And maybe that’s the issue – I need to feel useful.
With the passage of time, I am always aware of its useful and useless expenditure and the need to differentiate each. Daytime TV is obviously useless. Sharing an art exhibition with my children is the opposite. And in between, there is a whole range of useful to useless temporal expenditure. This leads me on to my main resolution for this year. It has nothing to do with chocolate, you will be relieved to hear. In any case that would be doomed to defeat. No, my resolution this year, above all others, is to make sure that I do something useful each day whether that be erecting bookshelves, writing critical essays on Wagner or helping out as a sounding board for my many Parkinson’s friends.
Don’t get me wrong – I am still retired and (with both Parkinson’s and diabetes) need to take things easier but I do intend to make sure that I stick to this resolution. And what is it? It’s very simple really – let no day be wasted. In other words, I should be able to say, at the end of each day, that I have at least done something useful, however small. That’s it. LET NO DAY BE WASTED.