In this blog, I want to treat aging as if it was a creative opportunity – a fascinating literary condition, a different perspective for art, a question for poetry, a new beat for music. Growing old is something to be investigated, touched, handled, marveled at, despaired of. I don’t want to just bear it and I’d certainly like to take fewer instructions about how to stay alive. I’m tired of lists of ailments and directions for exercise and diet. I’m tired of being urged on to do hobbies, to stay active, to limp with a smile into my last years. I’m especially tired of all the jokes, most of which have to do with physical and mental deterioration.
I just turned 70. I still don’t yet know all the ways in which old people are different from other people. The most obvious, I suppose, are physical. I’m not sure most of us, for all our years, have been made wise. But all that living should have made some difference. What’s most striking to me is that we’re living in a different context than other people, one that bears thinking about. Old age puts life in a different perspective.
For example, our sense of time is very different from that of children, young people, even middle-aged people. Time speeds. The years rush by. How does that affect the artist’s perception of the world around her? The shape of a writer’s story. The pulse of a piece of music?
And, of course, there’s our relative proximity to death. We’re living closer to the edge than most of our younger neighbors. Like the soldiers in Afghanistan, we can only hope that there’s not a roadside bomb just beyond the next turn. Living among older people now in one of those over-55 manufactured home parks, I’m impressed every day by their courage.
Yes, we’re different than the young. And now that so many of us are so much older, we’ve only just begun to explore what that means.
The late Gene D. Cohen, in his book The Creative Age, described three kinds of creativity in old age. These posts will look at all three, but since life never falls into categories as neatly as all that, some and maybe even most of the artists I want to talk about will fall into more than one. At any rate, the kinds are:
1) Creativity begins with aging, or first becomes apparent in later life. I’ll call that one The artist born in old age.
2) Lifelong creativity continues into old age, where the years sometimes bring changes. That one will be titled The creative life.
3) Creativity is born out of loss. How about The artist born in adversity?
4) And, of course, there has to be a category for everything else. A sort of miscellany. I’ve named that one Old people and old artists–another rant.