My sixtieth year. Time to look ahead, far ahead, and consider how to shape my life over the next ten years.
I don’t feel that life is pre-ordained. I do have choices. Efforts made now will make a difference.
All right, everything I might attempt is heavily influenced by the society in which I live; and I also think that my own character is a limitation. And overriding everything is the accidental and unpredictable nature of outside events. I am, besides this, highly conscious that whatever plans and predictions I might make, it could all be upset or brought to nothing by a devastating illness or injury. But I’m convinced that it’s worth making my ship seaworthy, consulting the chart, and setting a definite course. Not only worth it, but frankly unavoidable.
It’s no good drifting. It achieves nothing. I don’t want to waste the years ahead.
Nor should I count on an early death saving me the bother of living. There is no reason to anticipate an early release, nothing that I presently know of. Nor will I be seeking it. I can’t believe that my best years are in the past, that life can never get better, and that there is nothing to look forward to. What nonsense! There is everything to play for.
You simply can’t ignore the future. Life goes on. Tomorrow will come. If I gave up, gave in, ceased to plan, and embarked on a heedless and self-destructive spree, I would surely survive it. I’d wake up intact, nursing a splitting headache, and ruefully wondering how I could ever think that life is so easily cheated. It goes on and on, it knocks on one’s door every morning. One might as well accept that the proper effort must be made, and brace oneself for another day. To look forward ten years, in fact, and then ten years more. And be cheerful about it.
So what are my chief aims for the next decade? Let’s look at them.
To take my transition to a much higher level
My apprenticeship as a woman must be completed, and I must be indistinguishable from an ordinary woman at age 70. This means unremitting attention to appearance, voice, behaviour, socialisation and background knowledge of what a woman’s life consists of. I can’t of course become perfect at any of this. But I do think that this aim is achievable for all practical purposes.
To establish myself in the heart of a new community
I haven’t abandoned the notion of moving to some village or small resort in the West Country, where I want to earn my place in the regard of local people. Perhaps some public role that is social and cultural - though not political. A position at the local arts centre would do. I don’t want to stay forever suburban and anonymous, unknown, overlooked, forgotten, without purpose. Moving away would involve upheaval. And whatever the urge to stay in touch, I’d have to abandon my life in Sussex. And I must have regard to the health facilities I’ll need. Nor can I move until the money is there for it: getting enough together for a house deposit, and to pay the stamp duty, will require saving on a prodigious scale. But I can’t see myself still here in Sussex in ten years’ time.
I will surely still be caravanning on the UK mainland, but here I have in mind seeing more of the wider world. That will depend on having the money, and I may well have to choose between moving and travelling. I don’t think I can fund both. It would be so nice to feel part of a community into which I was completely integrated. But equally it would be so nice to personally visit the remarkable places of the world. This is where I will most miss the money lost forever on the Cottage. I can’t now afford to travel much. Never mind, something will be possible. And many of the places I’d most like to go to will remain accessible to me, despite the creeping effects of old age. One very special travel ambition would be to revisit New Zealand, and see my step-daughter A---. Having been to New Zealand once before (in 2007) I know what is involved. Certainly, it’s the effort and expense of a trip to the Moon compared to most other holidays! But of all long-haul trips, this is the one I’d like to do.
I don’t think there is anything totally unrealistic about these three broad aims. Nor about some lesser aims that hardly need mentioning, such as maintaining fitness, keeping up a good social life, developing personal talents, and making the house and garden look nice.
I haven’t mentioned two things that most would make a top priority: having a sex life, and finding a new relationship. In theory, both are possibilities. But I don’t feel driven towards either. Although now equipped to enjoy sex in a way I’d feel comfortable with, the hunger for it isn’t there. That might change, but nobody should hold their breath. As for a relationship, I’m just not looking. Basically I love my independence, and I don’t want to compromise it. I’m also convinced by experience that I have the wrong temperament for a shared life. I most certainly don’t want to stir up other people’s emotions and cause them pain. So it’s yes to friends, but a firm no to lovers.
I recognise that there are arguments that might be raised against my position here. Some might say that in a relationship, love, kindness, loyalty and companionship are the key elements. Can’t I deliver those? Didn’t I do so in the past? What has changed? And if I could make a fair attempt at being loving, kind, loyal and companionable to some other person who needs those things, shouldn’t I offer them? Wouldn’t it be selfish not to?
This is difficult territory. All I can say, based on my own experience and self-knowledge, is that my past record is against success. I can’t rationally ignore it. It’s evidence of poor judgement, emotional incapacity, and lack of total commitment. It’s discouraging, and I am discouraged. I feel that I would damage anyone who wanted to get close to me. As I have damaged M---. This is like not having children, and doing one’s bit for world over-population: I’m going to make society happier overall if I abstain from love, keep out of other people’s hearts, and confine myself to pleasant conversation. At least it would be an uncomplicated life.