Teddy Roosevelt

‘Your first task is a Roosevelt task’, they said.

Theodore Roosevelt apparently believed: ‘In any moment of decision the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.’ So we were being asked to do something. ANYTHING. ‘It should be something fun’, they said, ‘that you would not normally do’.

Oh oh. Straight away my mind goes blank. Freeze.

And then I start thinking. Now I have lots of other things to think about, as we all do, of course. Letter from my former husband needs a reply (it’s been six months). Have to chase up the insurance, find someone to replace the whole floor after the leaky pipe ruined it. Have to do some more unpacking from the move, some admin, bill paying and filing and finding places for things. Have to do laundry and shopping, drop a parcel at collect+ and so on. My estranged daughter has agreed to come for lunch tomorrow; she is now vegan, so need to think about what to make and get the ingredients. This Roosevelt task is not the only thing on my to do list.

Someone else has posted online already: he has gone for a swim, that’s his Roosevelt task. I could do that! I did it about two weeks ago, actually. That was brave, and unusual (it’s been many years since I wore a swimsuit) and sort of fun, and I could pretend I’d done it this week? He has posted a great photo, too, of goggles and a towel. I wonder whether he took the photo or where he got it. That’s another thing on my list: make a website (first find out how).   Write the copy, choose the imagery. Get the images. Oh god. But then, such a website, for my as-yet-non-existent Alexander Technique business, is putting the cart before the horse. This Roosevelt task is one of many in a programme designed to help me decide what on earth I can do for a living.

What could I do, not for a living, but for my Roosevelt task? A dance class, singing, a walk, pottery. I go onto the meetups site. There’s loads of stuff on there, and I had already signed up for a few groups, without ever actually going to any meets. There doesn’t seem to be much, given the task needs to be accomplished this week. There’s a Bollywood keep fit class, coincidentally in the very same building in town where I went every day for three years when I was training to be an Alexander Technique teacher, but I can’t surely do that?  At my size and level of fitness?  And anyway, who would make dinner for my son?  And anyway, my ankle is still not strong enough after my fall…   I sign up for lots of groups. Doesn’t commit me to anything but alerts me to events. Seems not to be anything for this week, but lots of interesting ideas for the coming weeks. But I suspect I will be too busy or tired or….

It’s a bit like some other kind of therapy really, this. Because in thinking about what this new activity should be, I cast my mind about. It has to be something I don’t normally do. If I don’t normally do it, why not? And I realise something. I think that as a child I was probably encouraged to sit still and to be good at school. I sat still and I was good at school. I did not run around. I did not sing. I did not dance. Now, this is about my career, and obviously I am unlikely to suddenly decide to be a singer or dancer, and lord knows it would hardly be the road to riches, but still.

And I think: I did the same to my children. They are all SCARILY bright. One about to graduate from Oxford, the other two about to apply to Cambridge. Not that that is a measure of everything, but it is a measure of something. And I wonder if I thwarted any of them. Not really – the eldest was dyspraxic and so was never going to be an athlete, though she rows for her college now, much to my amazement and pride. The other two were never much good at sports, either, never on any teams. Other than chess, debating, shooting (a sport you do lying down).

Then I reflect that, actually, over the last few years I have done nothing but new things. About four years ago, after being in hibernation with my children for 17 years I did something very unexpected. Without any warning or research, sort of by accident I plunged into a three year training to be an Alexander Technique teacher. Mad, really. I’d had lessons when first home with a baby, and thought it made perfect sense. Decided, once the little ones were in senior school, that I really ought to have lessons again, because I was developing a dowager’s hump, and suddenly plumped for the course instead, on the spur of the moment, just as a new term was starting.

I loved it. Not saying I didn’t feel awkward. Didn’t like anyone looking at my body, never mind touching it. But within two weeks everything was better. I’d gone because of the dowager’s hump. I knew AT could fix that. But I had resigned myself to the pain in the knees that had put paid to virtually any movement at all, and made going down the stairs almost impossible. I’d seen physios and consultants and nothing helped. I thought it must just be because I was fat. I figured too that I was going to have to live with the RSI in my wrists if I was going to continue to use a mobile. After two weeks my wrists no longer bothered me and I was skipping down the stairs. But the biggest shock was still to come: I used to be angry all the time and the anger just melted.

So I was thinking ‘This is great. And it gives me something to do when I qualify. I don’t need to make much money: I am married to a banker, and our school fees bill is about to reduce. But I will make a bit, and I will be busy doing something I believe in. Perfect.’

But then everything changed. That is a subject for another blog maybe, but not this one. Long story short, I need to earn a living somehow but have been out of the workforce for over 20 years, am virtually housebound with various ailments, so obese I don’t want to leave the house anyway, and I am realising that I never thought I was any good at any of my jobs in any case. So!

So – everything is new anyway. I have got divorced, sold and bought homes (though finances had always been left to my ex), and moved.  I find myself in unfamiliar surroundings in every sense of the word. I have done so many things I never did before: bought a car, took lodgers, joined a gym, gone on holiday alone with the children, had therapy: all new. Now I need earn some money, and the question is: how? Hence the course.

But for now, I need to find a Roosevelt task.  Is this it?


Image: One or two pots survived when we moved, most were sold or given away.  To my surprise and pleasure, some oak seedlings have appeared.




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Florence Feynman

I am a middle aged, middle class woman, thinking.