Claim your creativity
You’ re never too old to start a creative journey. Jude Higgins celebrates the experience and confidence that comes later in life.
There seems to be a rush in today’s western world to ‘ find your passion’, with many of us feeling lost in our 30s and 40s, searching for our ‘thing’. But the wiser ( perhaps older) among us know it’s far more important to be curious. Look around your community and you’ll find women in their 50s, 60s, 70s and older involved in all sorts of creative enterprises.
The brain has no age limit. Research shows that changes in the brain after mid-life can even facilitate creativity. The right and left hemispheres become increasingly integrated, learned ideas come together in new combinations – we can draw on a vast storehouse of life-long learning to be expressed in unique, fresh and complex ways. And contrary to what was previously believed, the brain is capable of positive change throughout life – it just depends on us being involved in activities that optimally stimulate novelty, complexity and problem solving.
These days women re-invent themselves at different ages. I’ve always been a creative person – my work as a Gestalt psychotherapist meant that I constantly devised new ways of helping the people I worked with become more aware of self-limiting beliefs and experiences. I believe nothing is fixed in a person and that change occurs by finding out more of who we are through the awareness process. Nevertheless, with all my background in psychotherapy, it was still hard to think that as an older person, I could be fully involved in a different aspect of creativity and make a success of it. It wasn’t my ability I doubted. I thought my age might get in the way. Even so, I retired at 60 to focus fully on writing fiction, an activity I’d always loved. I applied for and was accepted on an MA in Creative Writing at Bath Spa University. There I found that writing a novel draft, the focus of the course, was not for me. My energy dwindled.
It was only when I discovered short- short (or flash) fiction that things took off. Eight years on and I’ve won many prizes, my short fictions have been accepted by literary magazines and in 2017, my chapbook The Chemist’s House, was published by indie publisher, V Press. I also founded an international f lash fiction award in 2015 and directed the first ever flash fiction festival in the UK last year. Both enterprises have been hugely successful. I’ve found that now I am rarely frightened of trying out different things. Every venture is slightly more of a stretch, whether it is writing a new piece of fiction in an experimental style, submitting it to magazines and risking rejection, teaching a class to inspire others to write, or conceiving of large projects to bring others together.
Creativity in older people can sometimes be thought of as a hobby – an activity to keep you busy in your later years, but describing your creative pursuit as a hobby only, can diminish the enterprise. Older people have much to be passionate about and express, based on decades of experience. Many, like me, decide it’s ‘now or never’ and are impelled to switch focus in
their lives to pursue a dream. “If anyone had told me I’d start writing at age 47, I’m sure I would have laughed off such nonsense. ‘ What? Me write? You mean, as in, creatively?’,” says writer Christina Dalcher from the US. “After decades of jobs in budgeting, bookkeeping, and science, the idea seemed preposterous. I’m the one laughing now because I did pick up that pen when the big 50 loomed large in my sights, when I dropped out of academia and realised words were a way to look closely inside at who I was and what I thought. Writing is, in my mind, the ultimate form of introspection, of dealing with our emotions as mature women. It’s addictive and soothing, and I can’t imagine ever putting that pen down.” Fast forward just a few years and Christina has recently secured a six-figure deal for her debut novel, Vox, which will be published later this year.
Women in mid-life are often caught up with family matters – looking after elderly relatives as well as holding down full-time jobs and caring for other family members. Such things certainly distracted me in earlier decades of my life but some women choose to let the difficult life events they’re experiencing propel them into creative action.
Jeanette Sheppard, a Uk-based creative, writes and draws. When she was 50, she began on-location sketching in the hope that it would help with anxiety stemming from pressures related to dementia in the family. “Over 20 years ago, I drew from photographs but on-location sketching offers something more because it’s about drawing from direct observation, inside or out,” says Jeanette. “I’ve drawn in town centres, in hospital waiting rooms, in bus queues, in concerts. I would never have dreamed of sketching less than three years ago.” Now she has a visual diary to look back on to remind her of her creativity that carries on in the face of family crises.
Any life event can provoke a creative response. Uk-based award-winning poet and prose writer in her 40s, Angela Readman, began needle felting in December 2017 to help take her mind off a difficult house move. She picked up some felt to stop herself ‘pacing’, then found that shaping small creatures lowered her stress levels. “Something else started to happened,” says Angela. “I showed people the things I created and they liked them; it was a satisfying feeling.” Despite her success as a writer she says she has spent a lifetime of telling herself she has no talents or skills. “I had to stop and question my inner critic. It was a change in the way I think about myself. I’ve now taken the step of opening a shop on Etsy.”
There are other ways to lessen negative self-beliefs. Taking a weekly creative challenge is one of them. Sue Borgenson says it’s a commitment to herself to enter a weekly micro competition. She’s written over 90 pieces and never missed a week. “Even when I was in hospital for cancer surgeries, an Ad Hoc story had to be written and submitted,” says Sue. “I think the nurses thought I was bonkers. But it was the commitment I’d made to myself that, if I wrote nothing else, I’d do an Ad Hoc.” Sue’s formed a group of other writers who enter the weekly contest alongside her. Building community is an important aspect of creativity. These days there are so many forums both virtual and face to face that put you in touch with others. As a woman with no children or extended family, I’ve created a whole network on social media via my passion for short fiction. The meet-ups I arrange through reading events, my teaching and the Festival of Flash Fiction have brought me friendships with people of all ages. Creativity has a wide brief. It’s not just about being an artist. At any age, and particularly in later decades, if you try something new or reclaim lost interests, you will find out just how much you can expand who you are.