Photography by Nick Karvounis
Last night I had a conversation with a Norwegian friend living in Spain. She is fifty and recently published a beautiful new book. I am in my 70s. We hadn’t seen each other for years and were trying to figure out a way to meet on our limited incomes since I was now in Europe. I knew a trip would be inspiring and feed my imagination but I had been putting it off due to financial fears. I suddenly blurted out “I am coming to Spain in September, I promise!”
It was one of my senior moments: If Not Now, When? Why Not? What Can They Do To Me?
These are the realizations that the aging experience when they unexpectedly jump into the world of art. They join community-based art programs, sing in choirs, start to write poetry, experience a sense of mastery, and gain a social connection with those outside their previous worlds.
I didn’t jump into the art world since I was born into it. Yet I have always created art for my sanity. As I age, it is also the healthiest thing I do. Creativity, which is related to the personality trait of openness, can lead to greater longevity and well-being.
Creativity’s core skill is imagination, which consists of mental representation (visual, verbal, and auditory) of things that are beyond the senses. Prospection, the central thrust to healthy aging, is imagination about possible futures. Originality is prospecting that introduces novelty with new variables, perspectives, and possibilities. Creative people often call on what they know from other domains (general knowledge) to penetrate problems. They use intuition to approach new tasks and challenges. Naturally, it is the aging population that holds the potential for great knowledge and intuition through experience.
My mental speed has already lowered and I take far more time to accomplish tasks. I struggle with short-term memory and other cognitive abilities as I age. Yet like many of my generation, my knowledge base and intuition are vast and increasing constantly. It is compensating for my losses.
Science says we get less creative as we age. The anecdote is creativity and art. Creativity is having the ability to make unexpected connections. It allows us to perceive the commonplace in new ways, and to see the atypical or unusual and realize their importance.
How do we feed creativity? Be playful – literally, act like a child every now and then. Travel where you can, even if it is only around a new city corner. Expose yourself to different cultures and traditions to keep the rigid judgmental mind in check. Interact with people of different ages. Allow your mind to wander with idle thoughts. Confront challenges and adversity. Write, sing, whittle, and cook your thoughts to help make meaning of your life. Get comfortable with a different idea or skill.
Own growing older by celebrating life. Create and share. Feed your mind on the smorgasbord of art. And, yes, I am going to Spain to laugh and conspire with a friend.
It takes a long time to become young.