The Artful Life: Reconnecting with Your Creativity in Midlife and Beyond
Life is full of comparisons. As employees, our performance is measured against our coworkers. As mothers, we worry about whether we are doing good enough – compared to whom, by the way? Creatively, we feel like we can’t compete with our “natural” friends and neighbors.
As we reach our 50s and 60s, we have an opportunity to let these comparisons go. After all, we all have unique passions and gifts. Now, it’s time for each of us to sing our unique song – for ourselves and for the world.
What if Only the Top Ten Birds in the Forest Sang?
Imagine. Only ten birds singing. What happens to the other untold thousands? And are we tasked with searching that forest to find those rare voices? Happily not. All birds have a voice.
Creativity – and all forms of art – have been boxed and sold to us as “some have it” and “some don’t.” And for that reason, many of us have put that box on a shelf, thinking that artistic talent belongs to someone else. And even among those who have embraced their talents, many have fallen into a mental trap that there is some huge and vague competition where all are lined up from the best of the best on down, leaving the top ten singing alone on the stage while the rest of us flounder in the rafters.
I am serious. What if only ten birdsongs could ever be heard in the woods? We would lose the beautiful bird symphonies that brighten our days, whether it is the magical harmony of northern woodlands or that brilliant cacophony of tropical rain forests!
We All Fall Victim to Limiting Ideas
To be honest, I can think of times when I fell victim to those limiting ideas. At one point, I was working as a curriculum director in a school district. Although I had always given workshops and had been a public speaker, I had a colleague who was a dynamite speaker. I was in awe of her polished style, her humor, and the way she connected with the audience. I allowed myself to become intimidated by her stellar performances… and I actually stopped speaking.
A few years later, I recognized the folly in that decision. There was zero room to grow within it. My friend had gone on to become a world renowned keynote speaker when I decided it was time for me to grow and speak again. I joined Toastmasters and worked on my skills. I realized, that of course, I would likely never be a speaker like her, but I am certainly a speaker like “me.” That actually became my moment of liberation. I started to think – YES, I CAN.
At Our Age, We Can Break the Chains that Bind Our Creativity
Perhaps, as we reach our midlife and beyond, we can break away from societal strangleholds on our creativity. As time has moved on, I have come to view life itself as the creative force and the daily moments within it as my canvas for which to imprint my art form.
I have kept journals, written songs, painted designs on bird houses, made photo collages, created films, grown herbs and flowers, written poetry, and painted watercolors.
One of our sixties icons, Marshall McLuhan, said “the medium is the message,” in reference to the way an artistic medium shapes and transforms a message. For me, I think the opposite is also true: “the message is the medium,” that is, creativity and creative ideas flow out through a range of shapes and forms.
It’s Time to Explore New and Exotic Forms of Expression
Recently, I discovered a wonderful and very simple activity called Zentangle. I had never heard of Zentangle, but a friend who has watched me doodle through countless meetings, recognized a signature in my doodles and gave me a book, Joy of Zentangle, that she felt reflected my art.
From there I took off into a magical world that gives me the freedom to create without limiting me to perfect symmetry (not a strong point of mine). Zentangle is an art form with “beautiful images made up of structured patterns.” It contains the word Zen because it is a genuine meditative act to draw this way.
I buy blank cards and use colored markers to draw my Zentangles – and each card is different. I can draw peacefully for hours and then pack up my art kit into a little zipper bag that fits into my purse, which I can take anywhere. When I have a set of seven, I put them together in packet and give them as gifts. Everyone uses cards for thank yous, birthdays, etc. Some have even framed the cards I gave them.
Whether it is in the garden, through visual art, photography, theatre, dance, writing, speaking, or any other form of expression, we can all find avenues for our creative energy. And being alive today, we can also probably even take an online course or an adult education class to enhance our skills. There are myriad art forms from leaded glass to doll-making, from poetry to music – innumerable ways to magically transform our unique expressions to what Mary Oliver calls “the little flames leaping.”
Now it’s your turn!
What art forms have you practiced all your life?
What new ones have you recently discovered?
What is your creative story?
Let’s get a conversation started? Do you agree that life in your 50s, 60s and better offers an opportunity to reconnect with your creative self? What create tasks do you enjoy?
Becki Cohn-Vargas, Ed.D works as an independent consultant to schools and organizations with over 35 years as a teacher, principal, curriculum director, and superintendent in public education in California. She developed a standards-based bullying and intolerance prevention curriculum and has worked to create accepting and inclusive climates in over 150 schools and colleges across the US. With Dr. Dorothy Steele, she co-authored the book, Identity Safe Classrooms: Places to Belong and Learn. Becki and her husband, Cohn-Vargas, are also working to develop an environmental research center on their private reserve in the Nicaraguan rain forest. They live in El Sobrante, California, and have three adult children living in the Bay Area.