Aging and Creativity: A Report from the Road Ahead

A client and I have been working together since January of 2020, two months before the March pandemic lockdown began in the US. Over the ensuing years, I’ve been a happy witness to meaningful changes.

To begin with, this client is elderly. Their life will come to an end, and that reality underlies the work we do together. This person acknowledges their mortality in ways large and small.

How does your garden grow?

In their garden, they pruned and shaped the plants, weeding out the stragglers and hiring help for some heavier work that threatened the health of my client. Some budget items shifted around to make this possible, and the client and their spouse agreed the changes were worthwhile.

 

Tidying the garden
Image by photoAC from Pixabay

Similarly, in their community, the client found ways to resign from volunteer obligations that had become burdensome. It was difficult to go through the extrication process, and guilt hovered in the wings, but once the time opened up and the emotional and administrative burdens lifted, they noticed a sense of relief and felt confident about their decisions.

The client observed that there were fewer hours each day available for intensive work, whether household chores or creative writing. So they studied where the time went. Friendships that had devolved into something less needed to be examined. Some relationships fell by the wayside, as the client saw that the greater priority was quiet time at their desk or in meditation. These choices and decisions were not easy and happened gradually.

At home, they identified their most important activities – including exercise, meditation, creative time, and time with family – and the best times of day to slot them in. They negotiated with their spouse to allocate chores, and to reserve daily uninterrupted quiet time. They agreed to accept some specified kinds of help with tasks from adult children and grandchildren.

Planning in the dark

Life is uncertain and unpredictable. We all live with that, whether by denying it or taking it in. To the client’s credit, they are facing the uncertainty of old age and accepting it as part of their daily reality.

The client said to me recently, “It’s not a given that you’ll get to the things that are important.” They are acutely aware that time is passing. At some unknown point, their gardening and writing days will come to an end.

Each day may bring a health concern that may, or may not, be life-altering. Even after all their paring down to essentials, carving out far more discretionary time each week than they had when we met, there’s still a chance that they won’t get their main creative project completed and published before circumstances force them to stop. There’s also a chance they won’t finalize the handover to their children of the operations of a small family business. The next generations may have to figure out some things on their own.

So far, the client has surmounted every obstacle. More than that, they are calmer and stronger. After a busy, accomplished life as a professional and as a parent and family member, they are now, for the first time, making room for doing nothing. Napping and casual reading are permissible now. And the resulting reduction in anxiety is itself healing and restorative.

These days, their creative work is more polished than ever. Relationships that they choose to maintain are more rewarding and clearly bounded. And their appreciation for the quality of their own creative work is at an all-time high.

I am inspired by this person, and look forward to their dispatches from the road ahead.

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