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AN ANSWER ABOUT AGE AND CREATIVITY
A journalist had sent me questions to answer for a magazine for seniors called Harmony, and I am sharing my answer with you here:
HAS AGE FACILITATED YOUR CREATIVE INSTINCTS AND THEREFORE CONTRIBUTED TO YOUR WRITINGS OR HAS IT INTERFERED IN A SENSE, SLOWED YOU DOWN IN ANY WAY?
Since I am answering this question for a magazine for seniors, I feel the need to preface it with some musing about age in general and how it may or may not impact one’s functioning in the vocational field of one’s choice. There are many advantages of being a ‘senior,’ and I am all for them. But that is a different subject, requiring an entire essay or even a book.
I want to first address my concern that by labeling ourselves as seniors and all its connotations, we are in many ways limiting ourselves. In terms of linear time, by which we tend to categorize the stages of our lives, and by our cultures of youth, we are aging, old, afflicted, feeble. In one sense, of course, time and the changes it brings are very real and obvious. We see it blaring all around and in us. The images are all too numerous but examples of plants and people sprouting, blooming, fruiting, decaying, dying, suffice as reminders when we tend to forget or deny the inevitable.
I had a long phase, after I retired at the age of 55 from my comparatively brief career as an educator, in which I felt within myself the ravages of time. I could not write for a long and tortuous stretch. How I overcame it, the strategies I used, the perceptual changes I made are too long to enumerate here. I have written a book The Writing Warrior, yet to be published) of 32 essays on the subject: the processes of creativity, the crooked, unexpected paths it takes, the essential lessons to be learned from our adversities and suffering, and the techniques, tricks, and perceptual shifts that helped me pull through. There is always the danger after ‘retiring’ of falling into a pit of depression and futility. I have known people who have died shortly after retirement. One must recognize the need to be relevant, to matter, and then take steps, often minor ones, to perceive and ensure it. Knowing from the examples of acquaintances and friends the psychologically dangerous straits one can fall into, I am grateful to the Universe for bringing me out of it whole and unimpaired. I have not only survived, but know, if I am granted health and longevity, that my best work lies ahead of me.
I will be sixty-six soon. I do have days in which I strain for words, canbarely catch the edges of thought, forget, then remember briefly something almost urgent to do, some idea or insight to jot down, then forget right away and no effort can bring it back. But I know on such days to rest my brain. How I do this is another long topic. But with rest, it invariably recovers.
Though time appears to be linear, bringing us to the diminishment of our power and abilities, in another sense time is the least real of all our realities. Simply look within your heart to see all time, all memory existing simultaneously. This narrative is anything but linear. It is a-chronological, outside the bounds of time and change as our minds know it. The heart, where memories, hope and desires spring, knows nothing of time. Here we are still children if we allow ourselves to be; here, from memories of stories told, our parents and all the ancestors that have preceded us and brought us here, to this now, are children, still a possibility in that plasma of life which births and receives everything; here, even in this dimension, old men in decrepit bodies fall in love and shriveled old women still nurture the embers of youthful desire in their hearts; here dreams and hopes never die and time ceases.
The story of my writing is not disconnected from my faith that our primary endeavor on this Journey we call our Life is to stay as close to the realities of the heart, the space of Possibility, Miracle and Mystery. We have to keep our awe, our curiosity, our passions alive as we age, nurture them till they grow ever larger. These bestow vibrancy to our lives and keep us youthful. I am certain that if we keep ourselves open to the Mystery, not fall into the trap of being this or that, old or young, or think that our powers must inevitably grow less as we age, we can be potent at whatever age we find ourselves.
Having said all of the above, I can put myself in its context. I look at myself in the mirror and though I know this creature with silver hair that looks back at me with often-puffy eyes as ‘me,’ I can see how the contours of its face have changed over time, as everything in nature changes. But internally, my life at this (what most people consider) ‘late’ age, has, like a sudden summer on a dying tree, begun to bloom in ways that have surprised and delighted me. I do not doubt that these flowerings will happen unexpectedly, obeying the laws of some inner seasons, till I die. Of course, one never knows about life, and this not knowing, if kept alive in our memories and our daily discipline, can be a path to awe and vibrancy.
I feel in better shape than I ever have in my life, both physically and mentally. The former is due to a passion for movement, for exercise (which doesn’t at all mean that I don’t indulge occasionally in glorious laziness; I do; I have earned it); yoga, stretching, walking, and gentle weight lifting. These activities must be our constant and loyal companions as we travel further into the part of this Journey we call Old Age. If befriended with a certain degree of caution, awareness, they will never let you down. Secondly, pertinent to the mental part, the brain, too, must be exercised. We cannot let it atrophy. It is altogether too precious a thing. This can be done in so many ways that it deserves another essay, or even a book.
My way of exercising it is through writing. My projects are puzzles that I have to put together. Freed from the need to earn a living, I have more time and leisure for it. My subjects and projects are branching out, proliferating, and I would need ten lifetimes to complete them all. But I have written much, and hope to write more. Age has brought me to subjects that I adore. They elicit my passion and engage my curiosity. I am not aged but eng-aged. In the final analysis, I would have to say, age has been a great Guide and Ally.
Of course it has brought me closer to the Event Horizon beyond which I will cease to be visible. But that, always the ground and bourn of this narrative, and the contrary, conflicted thoughts and feelings it evokes, is another essay.
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