Aging Creatively through Inner Growth and Self-Expression

Creativity, Photography, Renewal, Arts and Aging


Who really thinks about aging when young? I didn’t. My parents and my grandparents were old. I loved them but I didn’t think about their inner lives, their hopes, and their dreams. I concluded that they were too ancient to think about anything but where they left their glasses.

Old people were not relevant. Their inevitable decline was assured. Like an aging Plymouth, whose parts were beginning to sputter and whine, they’d mosey off to the junkyard to die. A harsh stereotype, but not an uncommon perception of the time, and some say, one that continues far too frequently today.

Fast forward forty years later. Scientific studies of the aging brain (see Society for Neuroscience)  are shattering the myth that age necessarily equals mental decline. Given the appropriate stimulation, that brilliant mass of protoplasm that resides in each of our skulls is capable of continued growth.

In my presumptuous teens and twenties, I assumed “continued growth” ended at the age of 30. Perhaps the insistent inner voice that has compelled me toward creativity is my brain’s plea for stimulation. In “The Creative Age -Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life” by Gene D. Cohen, M.D., Ph.d., (a book I highly recommend), the author argues that the aging adult is uniquely adapted to creativity because of our “life experience” and “long view.”

Dr. Cohen emphasizes that creativity is not exclusive to geniuses, like Albert Einstein or Leonardo da Vinci, but that it resides in each of us:

[Creativity] is the flame that heats the human spirit and kindles our desire for inner growth and self-expression.

Cohen suggests that the creative seeds are quietly waiting underground for a convergence of life’s experiences to reveal the light for growth.  When I recall the changes I experienced in the years 2005 through 2011, I realize that this turmoil freed me to take a risk, and to follow my creative calling for writing and photography.  My creative reawakening has me thinking in new ways, seeing new ideas and connections, and has given me a way to express myself on a much deeper level.  We all have this deepness within us and it may be expressed through learning a new instrument, trying a new recipe, writing a poem or redesigning a room. How our creativity is expressed is uniquely individual and offers a viewpoint that no one else has.


Creative Writing: Bus Stop Man and the Crazy Child

Italy 2008-Sunflower Field

I like to hike.   I don’t listen to music and I usually walk by myself.  I think when I hike.  Random thoughts flow in and out of my brain like clouds drifting across a blue sky.  This time frequently gives me a way to access the trapdoor where I hold stories in my head.  I think of people I’ve seen and how I imagine their lives.  Bus stop guy.  He’s one I think about. Bus stop guy waits for the city bus in front of a high end apartment complex situated off the road.  Bus stop guy always wears Crocs of different colors on his feet.  One Croc may be blue, the other yellow.  The Crocs never match.  He wears his dark brown, bone-straight hair down to his shoulders.  Frequently, he wears a women’s knee-length mink coat that reaches just above his knees.  I don’t think he’s a cross-dresser even though the mink is obviously designed for a woman.  He wears extremely loud, bright colors.

He may wear red tights with black ankle boots and a psychedelic shirt from the 60’s.  On warm summer days, he stands by the bus stop in white short-shorts with a bright green and black zigzag lightning shirt, feet outfitted in a yellow Croc and a red one.  Bus stop guy never smiles.  He looks out at the world through narrow brown eyes that dart here and there never landing on anything for too long.  I marvel at his bizarre color choices. Is he color-blind? Who am I to judge his sartorial choices?  We all only see the best when we look at ourselves.  Why shouldn’t bus stop man?

I wasn’t sure what to write in today’s blog entry.  Bus stop man came out of my creative unconscious, or what  my creative writing instructor, Clive Matson, calls my “crazy child.”  He has written a book entitled “Let the Crazy Child Write!” and teaches classes and holds seminars based upon his book.  Clive’s classes are conducted with respect for every writer and he offers constructive feedback. Clive says we all carry a “crazy child” within us and this child is directly linked to our creative unconscious. We also embody an “editor” who is parental in nature and tells us what we “should” do.  The “writer” coexists with the crazy child and the editor.  The writer is a “negotiator” and “planner.”  All have a role to play in writing, but the “crazy child” is where our creative voice resides.  Bus stop man arose from my crazy child.

Taking writing classes for me was the first step in my creative journey.  I feel lucky to have found an instructor who is encouraging, makes excellent suggestions to improve one’s writing, and have classmates whose creative voices I loved hearing.

WTF, How Old am I???

I.  THE THIRD TRIMESTER OF LIFE…It ain’t over til it’s over

Turning 60 freaked me out.  Now I’m 61…WTF??? Why doesn’t anyone tell you how blazingly fast life goes?  I  greeted each decade change with the feeling that I had time.  When I turned 60, I realized the escalator was only going one way…down.  My mother is 89 years old. If I live to be her age, two-thirds of my life was down the tubes.  One-third left.  Wake-up call.  Along with these aha thoughts, changes in my work and my home compelled me to think how I wanted to spend the third trimester of my life ( if I was lucky enough to live until 90). Had circumstances in my life remained the same, even the dreaded 60 may not have prompted scrutiny of my last trimester, however, changes happened.

II.  CHANGE & OPPORTUNITY…Journey to the right side

In the last five years, many people’s lives, and who and what they thought they were, have dramatically changed including my own life.   Unexpected change causes emotional upheaval, but also an opportunity for serious reflection about the next step.   I thought about what I loved…writing, photography, stories, music, nature, beauty, reading, solitude, exercise for mind and body, life-long learning.  I returned again and again to creativity. My adulthood had been dominated by my left brain, leaving  my creative right side of the brain a weak, flabby appendage.  Was I creative?  What does creativity mean?  If you don’t use it, do you lose it? I had been the family photographer for years, chronicling every Thanksgiving and Christmas and other important events.  I also enjoyed journal writing as a way to preserve a moment in time, and as a release for vicious words and thoughts I could not utter in public.  Photography and writing, I decided, would be the focus of my creative journey.  Classes and reading were to be my initial guides.  The more I read, the more I became fascinated by creativity and aging.  Eric Maisel confirms the creative spark as universal, but suggests the light is extinguished as we are socialized and transition into adulthood:

…[We] all have this [creative] ability…but…the unfortunate training [of socialization]…turns stubborn meaning-makers into self-estranged adults willing to accept the self-imposed exile of an uncreative life.

Maisel goes onto describe how we fall into a pattern of being as we grow to adulthood without awareness or reflection:

Moving through life as an imposter, knowing at some point that you’ve been living an inauthentic life–that you have bumbled from one point to another without thought.

The idea of bumbling from one point in life to another, without much thought, rang true for me.  I proceeded through much of my life guided by principles and symbols that gave me a structure and the appearance of free will.  This worked for a long time and then it didn’t.  I ignored warning signs that started in my forties and continued in my fifties.  As circumstances in my life changed and began to undermine its structure, combined with turning sixty, the jig was up.  I was on my way to my personal “To Tell the Truth”…who is the real Donna Gae?