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Douglas Eby : Maturity and Creativity

Maturity and Creativity

By Douglas Eby

Age and maturity can bring a new level of passion, ability and insight for creative expression. Although some areas that depend on physical performance, or accumulating and processing vast amounts of information, may become less easy or available, many creative endeavors flourish with increasingly varied life experience and the kind of vitality adult development can nurture.

There are many examples of people making significant creative projects in middle age and beyond. Despite losing a leg (in her early 70s), Sarah Bernhardt continued acting until age 78. Martha Graham danced until age 75. Sidney Sheldon, in his late eighties, still writes best-selling novels. Edward Albee, 75, won a Tony award for a new play in 2002. At 97, architect Oscar Niemeyer is developing one of his most ambitious projects.

Many actresses face a loss of opportunity due to ageism, but a number continue to create rich and appreciated characters.

Tyne Daly, in her late fifties, has commented about her acting in the TV series "Judging Amy" and elsewhere, and the value of maturity: "I feel less obliged to protect any made-up version of myself. I've kind of moved on from caring very much about other peoples' judgments of me."

Candice Bergen, 59, acclaimed for her acting in the TV series "Boston Legal," has commented that people "sometimes get crazier as they get older" and that she can "just be weird whenever I want."

One of the keys to experiencing maturity in positive ways is in how we think about getting older. The word "aging' often refers to the darker aspects, but aging can also be the natural process of adult development in which we grow fuller and more dynamic.

Faith Ringgold, a painter, sculptor and writer, now in her 70s, thinks her age is a definite advantage: "I am in my mature phase now, at the top of my game. Every day and every way I'm getting better."

Novelist and poet Maxine Hong Kingston once declared, "At mid-age I have an energy I never had before. I am much more effective in the world than when I was young."

Researcher Howard Gruber, co-author with Doris Wallace of the book Creative People at Work, writes that their studies show creative work takes a long time: "It is not a matter of milliseconds, minutes, or even hours — but of months, years, and decades."

Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi has studied hundreds of creative people over the course of many decades, and concludes "these individuals' curiosity and interest is still childlike... an almost childish curiosity is typical of creative adults."

Being creative throughout our mature second halves of life can be nurtured by staying open and curious, seeking ways to reconnect with interests we may have had as children, but abandoned in favor of the mundane necessities of making a living.

Not that it is always easy, but new interests can be developed and pursued at almost any age. Just because we haven't done something creative before, does not mean when we are older we can't do it, and find great pleasure in the doing.

Sophia Loren has an inspiring perspective on maturity: "There is a fountain of youth: it is your mind, your talents, the creativity you bring to your life and the lives of the people you love. When you learn to tap this source, you will have truly defeated age." •

© 2005 Douglas Eby

Douglas Eby is a writer and researcher about psychological aspects of creative expression and achievement. More »

8/17/05