Trying to make sense of life

Mon 2 – Sun 8 Jan 2023

As we get older, I’m pretty sure it’s true that we spend more time and energy trying to make sense of life. What has been the purpose of it all; what should I strive to achieve in the time left; how do I measure if my life has been a success or failure; what should be my legacy; what could I have done differently? Some may say this is just a modern and rich person’s perspective. That people in the past or in living in poverty are just concerned with survival.

I’m not sure that’s true. If anything, archaeology and writings show how people have always tried to make sense of life particularly through religion and philosophy. Even when people are in horrible situations like war, starvation and imprisonment still they struggle to make sense of what is happening around them and frequently appeal to a greater power through things like prayer.

Reflecting and chilling

Key life moments

In our every day existence, there are key moments that particularly make us review and rethink about what is the purpose of our existence. Christmas and New Year are such moments. As are birthdays, deaths, and weddings. Perhaps every life-changing event in our lives is a point where we take stock and try to make sense of life.

I certainly wouldn’t be arrogant enough to say I’ve made sense of it all. Rather it’s a constant question I ask. And it may be that the ultimate answer is ‘does it matter?’ Perhaps life is just there to be lived and enjoyed without causing too much pain to ourselves or others. As someone once said, the best thing you can hope for when you die is that you have not done too much damage.

birthday cake

Books and Reading

Completed two books that have both been about people trying to make sense of life. I suppose it could be claimed that all books are about this to an extent but these two struck a note with me.

Terry Pratchett: A Life with Footnotes: The Official Biography‘ by Rob Wilkins

I rarely read biographies / autobiographies. Not least as so often you know what happens. Fiction, at least, is like taking a leap into the unknown. But I realise that biography in particular helps us empathise with others; how they tried to make sense of life. Indeed, I think the story of most biographies is always ‘take the chances when you get them’.

I love Terry Pratchett. If you haven’t read his Discworld series then start at the beginning (‘The Colour of Magic‘) and treat yourself to the whole series. Brilliant witty writing deeply aware of human nature – see the quotation below about death. In particular, I am in awe of the prodigious output he achieved, sometimes writing 2 or 3 books per year. Unfortunately, he was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s in 2007 and died in 2015 aged 67. Basically we were robbed of a genius who could have done so much more.

This biography is by a close colleague. It’s warts and all which made me feel closer to Terry. But it also made me wonder if he was as amiable a person as I have always thought. Was he perhaps someone who was incredibly clever but couldn’t always communicate with us mere mortals? But perhaps that is the message. That to make sense of life we need to realise that sometimes we are successful or popular, other times we fail or people don’t like us. But in the end, we just need to live the best life we can.

Realising your shelf life and living with it

The Sense of an Ending‘ by Julian Barnes

A novella that won the Booker Prize. Been meaning to read it for ages and it is wonderfully enveloping. It’s the story of an old man looking back on his life. Part One lays out his youth as it happened. Part Two is when things force him in his old age to look back at those events. Rather coincidentally I have been contacted by someone out of the blue I went to school with, be interesting to follow that up.

TBH, it’s an easy read until you get to the end. I’m not 100% sure where the ending leaves us but it’s still a very good book. It does suggest that everyone is always trying to make sense of life. And what we remember from the past may not always be the truth. That we create the past. Sometimes our whole existence is often crafted by ourselves in our heads rather than being an objective list of events.

Perhaps the message of the book is also to leave the past in the past. As I have said many times, we don’t have the past or the present – all we have is the future. So any attempt to make sense of life is doomed to failure. We will tie ourselves up in torment and just end up with self-punishment. Perhaps we should just take learning from the past and worry about enjoying life through taking chances and not regretting.

motivational picture

Health and Efficiency

Gym

There can be no doubt that in trying to make sense of life, we see it from different angles as our we age and different situations arise in our lives. Currently, I am very concerned with trying to keep my health as good as possible. Perhaps I’m in denial of getting old or perhaps I am simply sensibly trying to look after myself.

At my age, it’s really hard to build muscle. If you are lucky then that is laid down when you are young and built on as you get older. More important now is that I keep my body strong so that it can deal better with ageing and injuries. Delighted that I got to the gym 4 times last week – mornings of Mon, Tues, Thurs and Fri. Generally on my own but not always.

The clock is reset on calculating the number of gym sessions done and the overall cost. So here goes, 4 gym sessions since the start of 2023 divided by the annual membership = £124 per session ! LOL, early days.

dumbells in the gym

Weight loss and stomach bugs

Good news in that I managed to keep my weight stable. Basically since I stopped working in mid-December, I have lost about 5 pounds. Definitely feel that I can focus on what and when I eat without too much stress eating. Hopefully this will last as it gives me a real feeling that I am in control of my appetite.

Though the weight control could also be due to having another dodgy tummy at the weekend. Bad on Saturday night and through into Sunday. Last thing I wanted to do was to eat. Not an ideal way to lose weight but any port in a storm. Been having a lot of stomach problems recently, might go to the doctor’s after my holiday if things ain’t better.

How I feel after a difficult week

Work Life Balance

Work is not the only thing that gives life meaning

For so many people, making sense of life includes to a large extent what they achieve through paid work. Obviously, I have moved into my penurious semi / pre-retirement and so work doesn’t currently feature in terms of the meaning to my life. Did see that someone also called it ‘early retirement’ this week which I quite like as it suggests retirement is an evolving rather than static thing.

Indeed, it feels like this is the first proper week of early retirement with the influence of the festive Christmas / New Year period gone. That I am starting to shape what my life is like now and starting to realise what life is like without a regular income.

But do I need some fulfilment through work?

There is a small part of me that has now started to whisper that perhaps I need something more in my life to give it meaning. Do I need a job through which I can try to change the world as I always wanted to?

I’m going to ignore this little voice for the time being. I’ve only just started my period of non-work. Perhaps one day I will go back to a job to try to help make sense of my life. But what I need to do is spend time investigating what really motivates me. And what job would feel like part of my life rather than just something I am doing to earn money. I can imagine many would laugh at that but why should we do stuff just for money if we don’t need to?

Trying to let work wash over you

Art and Culture

In my previous blog (read it here) I highlighted how I managed to see three great movies. My hope is to go to the cinema more regularly but that depends on if there are films I want to see at times that suit. Unfortunately last week that was what happened – no cinema visits. And also didn’t get to any galleries or museums.

Enjoying daytime TV

But what I did do was get into daytime afternoon TV. You can definitely say this is not artistic but I think it is cultural in the sense that it summarises what is good, modern, popular culture. And much of it links into making sense of life. I love crap like Doctors, Dickinson’s Real Deal, and Flog It. But I also appreciate A Place in the Sun, New Life in the Sun, and even Bargain Loving Brits in the Sun.

Trying to find meaning through moving abroad

I never understand why people choose to live in a different country but then want to keep the trappings of ‘British life’ (like Sunday roasts) and don’t bother to learn the language. Similarly, people nearly always talk about living abroad to have a more peaceful life. But also often want greater control of their own destiny i.e. through running their own business.

What I don’t understand is when people find something they enjoy and then decide to expand the business. If it’s just about running your own business then do that in the UK. But don’t just move abroad and become obsessed with the mantra of growth is everything leading to being overworked and unhappy.

Family and Friends

The new stroller

Clearly one of the things we can all do is be nice to others (though God knows it’s hard sometimes…) That includes nurturing our network of friends and caring for family. The former I need to be doing a lot more of. Main thing last week was me and Dave supporting our friend Patrick. I really hope there are some people to care about us as we get older.

Patrick bought a stroller to help him get about more easily. It was delivered on Saturday so me and Dave went over on Sunday to put it together. Fascinating that a product designed for people with limited physical ability is almost impossible for them to put together on their own. Indeed, pretty useless instructions and a trial and error / agile process of putting it together. Still the end product was worth it and he feels more mobile.

Mum is OK

For the family, pretty much the usual of looking after mum. No real news and we got the annual gas check on her flat done. She is more well now though still regularly reports she might be coming down with something. Funny how quite often she will have an afternoon nap and I end up doing the same. Frequently she seems to be just knacked. She definitely appreciated Dave coming round to see her on Saturday.

The reason why we are here

Sustainability

2022 = the warmest year ever

If we make sense of life by accepting what we should do is create as little damage as possible then it is vital that we all do everything we can to ensure future generations have a habitable planet. 2022 was the warmest year in the history of the UK – read about it here. Whatever happens with climate change, planet Earth will carry on. What changes is the human race. Can it survive on the changed Earth and perhaps simply how many can survive.

Every little bit helps

I do wonder if my little bit makes much difference. Like so many of us, I regularly think why don’t I just fly as much as I want to? I have chosen not to have kids, I have chosen not to have a car. But I can still make a difference as we all can. So I choose to try to eat less meat and I am trying to stick to my limit of 2 return flights each year. Gran Can later this month which leaves me looking at a train journey to Berlin during the year if I want to do Torremolinos in the autumn.

Plane flying

Personal Development

For me, life is about learning

I can’t imagine existing without new experiences that make my mind expand. That’s a big reason why I love reading. And I love doing my Duolingo language learning. I feel like I understand languages now – definitely so much better than I did at school. Delighted to say I managed some Duo everyday and I am still trying to improve both my Spanish and German.

The Week Ahead

  • Reading 2 good books both that contribute to my introspection on trying to make sense of life: the novel ‘Tiepolo Blue‘ by James Cahill and the autobiography of the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei
  • Ideally hoping to get to the gym four times. Need to renew my gym membership for the coming year as well.
  • Gonna try to keep my eating in check as I am actually enjoying this feeling of being in control and being a bit lighter
  • Gonna carry on with daytime TV but also hope to get out to the cinema and an art gallery or museum
  • We should have been helping Patrick get his new carpet fitted but that’s been put off until late February

And Finally…

We are all being played

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