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.

Project Calm - - Contents -

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.

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