Updated: Oct 31, 2022
At what age does our creativity end? This is one of those impossible ‘How long is a piece of string’ questions. It is not possible to generalise as each human being is different. Each of us ages in our own unique way. We can only say with certainty that our creativity into old age depends on an individual’s physical and psychological health. In the absence of major degenerative diseases, the aging creative person (music, visual art, craft and writing) can (and should) keep going with their creative expressions until the end of their life.
Currently there is a renaissance of creativity in older people with the Baby Boomer generation in retirement or semi-retirement. I recently came across a marvellous story of the blossoming of autonomy, self-belief and creativity in an older person. In 2021, at the age of 88, Ruth Wilson was awarded a PhD from Sydney University. Her thesis was on a new way of teaching literary fiction to secondary school children. It involves the reader relating to the novel through their own personal experience, rather than pulling the text to pieces, poring over the language and examining its social and political contexts.
When she turned 70, Ruth experienced a time of ill-health, turbulence and self-discovery. It was a kind of older life crisis. Having received a financial bequest, Ruth took the biggest risk of her life. She bought a cottage in the Southern Highlands, two hours south of Sydney. At first, she went alone to her cottage on weekends. Before long, however, Ruth went to live permanently at the cottage (which she called ‘Lantern Hill’) for ten years. In Ruth’s own words, “it was time to take my turn; a last chance to examine what had become of a girl’s once-upon-time great expectations of life.” Click here for Ruth's story.
At ‘Lantern Hill,’ Ruth read and re-read Jane Austen’s six novels which she had loved as a teenager. At the beginning, she had no inkling where re-visiting Jane Austen would lead. Again, in her own words, “the novels became a starting point for exploring the satisfactions and dissatisfactions of my own life, framed and illuminated by Austen’s fictional universe.” Arising from Ruth’s reading and research came, first, her Doctorate and, second, her bookish memoir “The Jane Austen Remedy.”
What can older authors (indeed, authors of any age) learn from Ruth’s experiences in her seventies and eighties? Three compelling take-aways for me are:
1. Wishing, hoping and feeling must be converted into doing. Be prepared to take a risk
and take action. We don’t need to buy a secluded cottage and re-read Jane Austen like
Ruth did, but we do have to make changes in habits, priorities, methods, time
allocation, amongst others.
2. When we decide on major changes in our lives, we will receive
support and encouragement from some people and negativity and opposition from
other people. Some of Ruth’s friends and family members did not understand what
she was doing or why. She had to stay firm in her commitment to making the changes
she wanted in her life.
3. We spend a lot of our lives living up to our own expectations, our family’s expectations
and society’s expectations. When desire and the opportunity come together, we must
dig deep, be brave and go with it. Ruth’s epiphany came at 70 years of age which is
late, by any measure. Yet she seized hold of it and it led to her living what she describes
as “the best years of my life.”
Luck plays its part in our lives. One element of Ruth’s good luck is that her mental faculties have remained largely undiminished in her later years. Being able to think, imagine, create and publish our writing is its own reward. The icing on the cake for Ruth is that her book “The Jane Austen Remedy” (published by Allen and Unwin) is garnering excellent reviews, a lot of publicity and is selling well. Book reading clubs are taking it up around the country and it is in high demand in libraries. For example, when I wanted to borrow it from my local library, there were 24 holds on it. I might need to buy a copy!
Incidentally, Ruth is still married to her husband David (who is not an Austen fan!)
Ruth is certainly a remarkable woman and she is one of many remarkable Australian women. What about you? Do you feel, as Ruth did, that it's your turn now? I look forward to your comments and feedback.
Doing the write thing (and loving it!)