Thursday, August 27, 2009

Unfinished symphonies

Yesterday, Dominick Dunne died aged 83. He overcame a drinking and drug problem to start writing at the age of 50... and went on to become a best-selling author.

He didn't consider himself 'too old' to start something new.

Stories of octogenarians going back to university abound. There are even stories in Africa of these old folks going back to school. Why not?

Have a look at the wikipedia entry for unfinished symphony. Many, many composers started pieces they did not live to finish.

But they started them.

Some years ago, my mother in law needed a new pair of shoes. I took her shopping. She took a shine to a certain pair of good quality shoes. Of course, the quality came at a price. Her view was that at her age, she didn't need to invest in a pair of shoes that would last and last, because she wouldn't be around very much longer herself. She chose something cheaper and altogether more ill-fitting. That was eight years ago. She is still hale and hearty and walking without the aid of a stick, with better eyesight than mine. Eight years of wearing a cheap pair of shoes (if they even lasted that long) when she could have treated her tired old feet to the sort of comfort and good craftsmanship they have earned after a lifetime of faithful service.

Have you noticed that people no longer talk about 'dying of cancer'? Nowadays, we talk about 'living with terminal cancer'. Because dammit, until you actually die, you're alive!

So why not start that thing? Enrol for that study programme. Sign up for those lifedrawing classes. Start knitting that Kaffe Fassett pattern with the 23 different yarns.

So what if you don't get to finish it?

There's a choice: you either give up on life and sit back waiting for death, or you take the chance that you might not achieve your goal in your lifetime... so you bow out still reaching, still stretching, still striving.

I know which I'd rather do! When I talk about my lifelong learning journey, I fully intend for it to last as long as I do.


Barry Sampson said...

As is so often the case with your blog, I read a post and find I have been having similar thoughts.

Last weekend I went to the airshow at Bournemouth, and just like at many airshows before, I found myself thinking 'I wish I could do that'. But like many others I'm sure, I have these thoughts and then they pass. But not this time.

No, this time I kept asking myself - why not? So this morning I booked my first flying lesson, which weather permitting will be next Friday morning.

So what happens if I don't do another lesson, or start lessons but don't complete them? Does it matter? I will have seen things, done things, been places, met people and learned things that otherwise I wouldn't have done.

It's a shame that so often when we consider learning (to fly, to drive, to run, to do anything) that the perceived value is in the completion instead of the journey.

They say life is a series of lessons, so I guess it's your own choice; treat it like school and let someone else set the curriculum for you, or go write your own.

The upsycho said...

@Barry Good on yer. Why not give it a go? And you are so right, why is it about the completion? I think this may be something inculcated into us by our results-focused education system. The process, the learning, the journey has got to be worth something.

Oddly enough, I find myself remembering the speech I made on my 21st birthday. What I said then was so closely related to the last two paras of my post.

Sometimes my younger self showed more sense than I gave her credit for!

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Karyn!

A great writer, who journeyed his way through more than half of the 20th century, was still journeying in 2004. He had been advised many times by his doctor to retire, but he would not.

His relentless authorship continued till 20 Febuary 2004 when he wrote his last radio broadcast and announced it as such, having given in to his practitioner's advice. He died the following month.

That man was Alistair Cooke, whose 'Letter from America' was broadcast regularly for 58 years.

Catchya later

The upsycho said...

I remember those letters from America! We used to hear them in South Africa. I loved the way he used to see things, and the way he chose his words so skillfully. I was quite bereft when he retired, and when his death followed so soon afterwards, I assumed it had been that that had caused him to retire.

V Yonkers said...

As I am leading up to my 50th birthday, I have been getting more and more disillusioned as I had set a goal to FINALLY get my Ph.d. by the time I'm 50. Well, it's not going to happen as I am still analyzing data.

However, I have not been working on it as I should as I realized that it was not going to happen. Then I read your post and you have motivated me to keep pushing on. So what if I don't finish it this year? I have next year and a lot more ideas waiting after I complete my degree!

The upsycho said...

@Virginia Woohoo! You go girl! 50 is just a number, after all. Why should it be the cut off point for anything? And on your 50th birthday, you will only be a day older than you were the day before. You can do this. You can do this.

Dave Ferguson said...

Your post brought to mind a joke we use in my family: my parents have gotten so old, they no longer buy green bananas.

There's a half-remembered story of someone writing to an advice column; he was considering going to med school, but given his age, "in seven years, when I get out, I'll be 38."

To which the columnist replied, "And if you don't go to med school, how old will you be in seven years?"

If we listen hard enough at any stage of life, we can like Andrew Marvell hear time's wing├Ęd chariot hurrying near.

What we don't know is when it'll arrive (or run us down). We don't need to spend too many days looking to see if it's at the door.

The upsycho said...

@Dave Yup. Cos when it arrives, it will announce itself loud and clear! ;o)