Ask someone 25 what they are doing, and you’re likely to get a vague answer that reads like a list of unrelated activities: I went to work, and then I met some friends for dinner, or I played a video game and then went to the mall….
Ask someone 35 or 40 or even 50 what they are doing, and they will tell you about the lives of other people: The baby was sick and so we were up all night…My father had to go to the eye doctor…It was Jason’s first day at summer camp….We had a big project at work…
But if you ask someone older, someone much older, say in their 70s or 80s, what they are doing, they will tell you what they love to do—and how they are doing it. And many people are making things. It could be building furniture, or painting a picture, planting a garden, sewing a quilt, or writing that screenplay or novel, or composing that song…
It seems that if someone is at all creative in their lives, in those later years, all those little creative birds come home to roost—perhaps to inspire the next generation.
There’s a joy to creativity that only seems to come when you’re older. I’ve felt the burn since I could think—maybe around the age of three or four. I learned to write (meaning letters of the alphabet) before kindergarten, and could write in script by 2nd grade, all leading up to my first poem (and rejection letter from Good Housekeeping Magazine) at the age of 8. The drive was always there. Develop the skills, get the tools, seek out ideas, examine them, and ultimately sit down to express something earth-shattering to the masses.
This recipe for a creative life happens to every creative spirit, with various doses of success and failure, angst and confirmation. Creativity in youth is a stirring of the soul, a painful sense of reaching for something you can never quite touch, but can never stop trying to. And the doubt that comes with it is torturous. I started off planning to change the course of the universe, reduced it in my mid-twenties to solving the problems of mankind, downscaled again to making sense of everyday life for the masses, and finally reached that creative pinnacle of “if I touch one person then I have achieved everything.”
And then something happened. I aged past all that, and now I just don’t give a crap. I get that I probably won’t change the course of the planet, the trajectory of humankind, or even the path taken by one person—and I’m too tired to want to anymore.
And yet, it’s still there, that creative urge, stronger ever than before. I am hugely productive by most standards, writing daily, playing music (badly, a running theme in my life), painting, sketching, and just dreaming in color. It flows out of me with an ease and grace that has never before been possible, and here it is, right at my fingertips.
Few people are dazzled by my genius because they are all so busy dazzling themselves with their own creations. Turns out that creativity GROWS as you get older. What an amazing concept—because now you have both the time to attend to it, and the life experience to actually express something valuable.
This summer, I spent a weekend Pyramid Life Center in the Adirondacks where people come year after year to swim in the private lake, kayak, and participate in creative workshops. I go just to hang out for a few days and detox from the real world, and I usually find my creative instincts stepping boldly forward.
What startles me are the ages of the people who come—mostly women, but some men. There is 82-year-old Bea, who worried this year about driving from Baltimore to Paradox, NY, a place in the woods just a few hours from the Canadian border. But she was determined to come, and she harnessed her willpower to get in the car for a drive that Mapquest says is between 7 and 8 hours, considerably longer than my 4-hour pilgrimage.
One night she came into the cabin around 9PM and gently interrupted a rousing dominoes game my friend and I were having (yes, we say it proudly). “Can I show you what I’m working on?” she said. We nodded, happy to comply, and she brought out a card with a pattern she has been weaving. “I just love weaving,” she said happily. Then she sat down to discuss the merits of the two writing workshops available for the week, debating whether she wanted to do the children’s workshop or the nonfiction. “But really, I just feel ready to write,” she said.
Last summer I conducted a writing workshop at Wiawaka House, a lovely lakeside retreat in Lake George, and the attendees were all older women (60s and 70s). The real delight was the 81-year-old woman who had come up from Virginia to work in the kitchen for the summer while finding her muse. She was at work constructing a biographical novel and researching on her time off from work. After the workshop, she would get up to “finish washing the pots” in the kitchen and do food prep for the morning.
These are the people I want to be when I grow up, the women who feel so energized and delighted with each day and their ability to “get it”. That seems to be what they feel, that their time, however limited, is not wasted, because now they almost understand what they were here for—and it keeps them young. It would be impossible to judge the ages of these women, and I would have been off by 15 or 20 years in both cases. I compare them to my mother, who at 82 now sits demented in a wheelchair, staring at a pepper shaker as if it will break out into song, and saying, “I feel like there is something more I should be doing.” “Pick up a crayon, Mom,” I feel like shouting, but she has never had the inclination and never will.
I wonder what Bea and Emily want to be when they grow up. And I hope I’ll be just like them—still trying to figure it out.
© Copyright 2012 – Arts Enclave.