This photo has little to do with this piece except that I have quoted Simone de Beauvoir—and I am an admirer of her work. She also reminds me of a French girlfriend of mine—now sadly dead. She, Catherine, used to kid me about the importance of balance—and she had a point. It became something of a running joke—with a serious dimension—between us. I was—and remain—very distressed by her premature death.
I’m now of an age—70—where most of my peers are retired. Not unreasonably, having worked most of their lives, they want to take life easy. They want to keep busy enough not to be bored—but primarily they want to do things they enjoy at a stress-free pace.
What do they want to do? Spending time with family, exercising, enjoying their pets, gardening, eating out, doing good works, and travel are high on the list—with just chilling out featuring prominently. Few want to accomplish anything of significance anymore—except in a lifestyle sense. They are retired and financially secure. They don’t have the imperative. They have earned the right to relax.
I am entirely sympathetic with such an outlook and lifestyle—but don’t share it. In fact, I have never felt more driven or worked longer hours. What is more, I have projects lined up which seem likely to keep me busy for years—certainly as long as my health holds out. And that assumes I won’t come up with a single fresh book or writing idea—which seems highly unlikely. Most of my projects, needless to say, concern writing one way or another.
Two aspects concern me. One is the ability to relate to my peers. Driven people may be interesting, but they tend to be the opposite of relaxing. The second is the sense that I need to rebalance my life a little. Writing with intensity is all very well—and I love it—but I’m pretty sure I would benefit if I relaxed a little more. And maybe become a better writer. Besides, it would be fairer to my friends.
My attitude towards travel illustrates my concerns. My retired peers seem to have bucket lists (an expression I hate) of places they want to visit—and most are highly travelled already. In contrast, though I would like to travel more as well, I am even more interested in writing about where I have already been. Thinking like the writer I am, I want to use the material I have already accumulated. No matter how great the disaster—or the pleasure—we writers like to take the view that it’s all material. We collect experiences with a view to using them.
We are not dilettante watchers. We vacuum up our experiences with some diligence. Such happenings, as far as we are concerned, are there to be used. We have no conscience in that regard. It is our role to observe, record, recall, interpret, and utilize. On balance, we writers are not really in the forgetting business—regardless of the consequences. Our recollections are as gold to us.
That said, when I get the chance, I chill out well—and really like travel providing it is based upon soaking up the atmosphere rather than ticking destinations off a list. I prefer to see few places in more depth. I like walking and wandering—and sleeping a lot. When I’m awake, good wine, good food, and good company, don’t go amiss
My favorite country is France—and my favorite part of it is the South West. I would go back there in a heart-beat—and hope to. Will I do that instead of seeing somewhere new? Yes—though I’m open to negotiation. I also fancy going to Tel Aviv. For some strange reason, it fascinates me. And yes, is does feature—rather bloodily—in a book. It’s a setting in THE BLOOD OF GENERATIONS. But then so is South West France. Travel and writing are interconnected as far as I am concerned.
Regarding re-balancing my life, I have given that a great deal of thought—and have some ideas. However, it seems likely that I will need to make a great effort first.
I could do with a serious vacation beforehand—but I am content to do without. As for classic retirement, I’m certainly going to ease my work routine—but I have no plans to retire. I love what I do. But I’m going to work hard to achieve the right balance. My sense is that it will be important—and not just for me.