Beethoven was only 56 when he died, but the last decade of his life may have been his most prolific as a composer. Here’s the amazing part to me: he was DEAF during this time. How do you write music you can’t hear?! It must come from a deeper place.
Woody Allen; (put aside for a second any judgements on his relationship proclivities) the man is a comic genius. He has written, directed, and/or starred in like 40 movies. He’s 79 and still at it. He has a movie in theatres now.
In a recent interview, Allen was asked how he manages to make so many movies. “I’m an imperfectionist,” he said. When asked about his being so prolific at this stage of his life: “Well, I am 80 in a few months. Who knows what I can count on? My parents lived long, but that’s not a guarantee of anything. It’s too late to really reinvent oneself. All I can do is try to do good work so that people can say, ‘In his later years, in his last years, he did some of his best work.' Great.’”
Doug Manning is my mentor/therapist/friend. Doug wrote his latest book in his 80s. It’s called, The Back Nine: Life Beyond Retirement. My favorite line from the book, “Aging is inevitable. Getting old is a choice.”
Doug speaks of the importance of having a hobby before you retire. As it turns out, it is also important to have a creative pursuit. Maybe they're one in the same. People who do pursue creativity, science now affirms, are happier and healthier.
I asked Doug why this is so important. He explained that as we age and maybe retire, our world gets smaller. Our network of friends and family usually dwindles. “Without a hobby, or creative outlet or a cause you can give yourself to, your world continues to shrink.”
So if it’s so important that we have a hobby or creative pursuit, how do we make that happen. It seems like most people don’t consider themselves “creative”. I disagree. I believe we all are creative or have the capacity to be. Maybe it’s that our culture steals it from us.
Maybe you’ve heard this old anecdote: The young child of an art teacher asks, “Mom, what do you do?” The mom wanting to keep the answer basic replies, “I teach people how to draw.” The child replies, “Did they forget how?”
I’ve heard that if you were to ask a kindergarten class, “How many of you are artists?” every kid in the class will raise their hand. As you ask that question in each grade in ascending order, the percentage will go down. By the time you reach the senior class, only a few, if any, will raise their hand. You could deduce then that one of the effects of education is teaching people that they are not creative, or at least not artistic.
Billy Collins, former U.S. poet laureate, and my favorite poet, says it seems to be the objective of every junior high English teacher to make kids hate poetry.
So maybe the reason that taking up a creative endeavor like poetry or painting, or writing, or dancing, or photography is so daunting is because we’ve been lead to believe we’re not adequate to the task.
In Four Quartets, T. S. Eliot declaims, “Old men should be explorers.”
I’m going to take Eliot’s advice and explore the possibilities of hobbies and creative pursuits for us men-of-a-certain-age. Because there's apparently more to it than meets the eye or ear.
I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas. What are you doing in this area? What did your father or grandfather do?