Like many thousands of other young people in the UK, today my son has received his A-level exam grades and had it confirmed that he is going off to the university of his choice. I am – of course – proud of him.
Thinking back to my own time at university, the thing for which I envy him the most is that he is about to embark on a fundamental period of his life during which he has the opportunity to ‘make himself’. Yes, many of his traits and attributes are already set, built up during childhood and his experiences at school, but he is about to have the chance to consciously shape himself, to define what sort of an adult he wants to be, how he wants the world to view him; to map out hopes and ambitions, to set a course.
And it made me wonder when, as adults, it becomes harder for us to do something similar. Having already been through that mill, worked for years, had relationships and families, at what point does it become impossible for us to go on such journeys? His is ‘invention’, but at what point does ‘reinvention’ cease to be possible?
It is a topical – and personal – question for me. On the verge of retirement from my ‘professional’ career of the last forty years, I have been throwing myself into my writing for a while now; and it occurs to me that making such a shift isn’t simply a matter of how one spends one’s time, it’s also about how you live your life. The transfer from ‘I did this’ to ‘I now do that’ is surely undermined if it is not accompanied by a) recognition that the ‘how’ must also be different (especially when the topics of ‘then’ and ‘now’ are so disperate!), and then b) acting on that recognition.
Hence, the reinvention.
It is – I’ll be honest – a scary prospect. A little like taking to a tightrope knowing there is no net beneath you. Perhaps it is not a dilemma the ‘hobbyist’ writer needs to worry about. Or then again, if you want to escape the accusation of writing being a ‘hobby’, then maybe you’ve no choice…