Is There Artistry in Aging?

My sister and I apparently showed some musical talent and interest early. So we spent hours of our growing-up years hearing, studying and performing music as a sideline.   We studied with a variety of teachers. Some of them were satisfied to teach us to read music and develop our technic. But eventually we each encountered teachers and conductors who taught us that it was not enough to just play the notes correctly and in the style of the composer. Playing the notes, mastering the difficulties   and learning the style were to be seen as necessary steps in learning a piece of music. Once mastered, we were shown how to and expected to add finesse and artistry. We got so we could “hear” when others just “played the notes” and admire performances that went beyond. We worked to achieve it in our own performances, whether for ourselves or others.   We recognized when we could achieve it and when we did not.

Recently I got to wondering if aging might not be similar to playing music (though we agers don’t have the option to play or not to play). Still there are basic blocks of knowledge and skills to be learned about the aging processes in our bodies, how those changes alter our capacities and the kinds of skills it takes to manage our daily living with those changes and other forces that affect it. We can learn to study the nature of ARCs (age related changes), their effects on specific capacities and areas of impact of our lives. We can learn new ways of manage and more creative ways of using our available internal and external resources. We can learn about different styles of aging (living independently/semi-independently in separate housing, in congregate housing, in acute care settings), living with differing degrees of dependency. We can learn the music of our own aging, and at some level, master the technics of engaging with our aging.

In this vein of thought I began to wonder, “Is there an artistry in aging that goes beyond just “playing the notes” in our engagement with aging? Even before I became aged, I had seen different styles in aging. I saw some who seemed to want no part of aging, who seemed to avoid engagement with it though being harmed by their neglect. Even when the music of aging seemed not too difficult, their performance was dour. Others I saw managed whatever aging challenges they recognized and dealt with them in a matter-of-fact way. They were content to “play the notes” correctly.   And then there were some who managed to not only engage, but do so with varying degrees of brio, some glowed and reverberated quietly and others with flair and panache, seeming to find joy and richness in engaging with their advancing years.

The differences in approach and style of engaging with aging didn’t seem to entirely depend on the amount of difficulty that agers were experiencing.   I encountered some who appeared to have all the advantages yet became as vinegary as wine gone bad or cheese that dried up. Others with circumstances that seemed extremely challenging seemed to continue to manage their lives and aging with the vibrancy of Stradivarius violins that had been played by virtuosos over the years or the leaders in their fields of endeavor who became even more able as they aged.

Perhaps we’re all pre-wired for our approaches to live out our lives in a certain way and thus have less control of what we naturally will do as we age. And certainly through the years we lived with or experience models for aging that we emulate or reject.

So far, I’ve been blessed in:

having remarkable models of aging,

the way aging has presented itself and

in my support system.

While I sense that my EWA capacities are yet to be severely tested, I know how I want to continue. My goal? A quietly vibrant style with as much artistry as I can achieve.

What are your thoughts? Wishes? Expectations about artistry in aging? Does it exist? Is it worth thinking about? Working toward?

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Aging, a Time of Creativity? Not My Expectation

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At 18, in my freshman year in college, I had my first exposure to the developmental stages in life. Decades later, I encountered them in a variety of different professional and personal activities.   According to the early versions (and some that are fairly recent), I sensed that my later years would be focused on “developing” by reminiscing about my earlier years, discovering my life’s meaning and trying to avoid “despair”.

What I’ve discovered is that, instead of living in the past to find its meaning, the demanding business of living well with my aging has kept me busy just keeping up with the present and looking ahead to the future, short though it may be.   No way did I think that becoming aged would require almost constant creativity in order to remain happy and satisfied, but it has!

Now this creativity has little to do with the way I would have defined it in the past — artistic, inventive, theoretical . . . No, instead it’s been mundane, pragmatic, primitive, tiny, adaptive.   But it’s kept me functioning to my satisfaction, so far. And each time my creativity works I feel a tiny triumph.

Here are some examples of my and my care partners’ primitive creativity in dealing with my ARC of weakening hand grasp:

The round knob on the oven controlling the function was too stiff for me to turn. A ¼ inch wide small rubber band over its circumference gives me the traction I need. I can still bake!

My fingers can no longer sufficiently grasp round handles on drawers in my office to pull the large drawers open. A braided loop of thick twine around their bases allows me slip it over my hand and open even full drawers.

One week I could open the dishwasher door, the next week I couldn’t. I put a small terry towel over the top to keep it slightly ajar so I could load it as needed. When full, I run it in the evening and a care partner opens it on the visit next day.

Hair snarls flip the comb out of my hand. A haircut that falls into place with minimal snarls or need for rollers reduces flying combs.

Weak hands can’t manipulate clothing. Knit, stretchy tops a size too large, and pants with stretchy waist bands, makes manipulation feasible.

Cupboard doors resisted opening. A layer or two of making tape over the magnet makes them openable.

Setting a can into a drawer with 3” sides enables me to use one side as a resting place for one arm of the can opener so I have only to press down with my full hand to get the cutter wheel in place. I still can manipulate the fat rubber covered rotator to complete the job.

This is a sample of creativity associated with just one ARC at this point in time. Different will be needed adaptations for this ARC within weeks if not days. And I have a half dozen other progressing ARC s that interfere with the quality of life in serious ways. All demand creative attention in order for me to enjoy my living or even survive.

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Another area for creativity focuses on relationships that require modification as my needs for assistance changes.   My care partners and I explore and negotiate openly, transparently.   When we do it well the relationships continue, become even stronger, I’m happy and they seem to be as well.

I do find that my past life does serve me well.   But it is as a tool that enables me to function in the present in ways that I find truly satisfying. For that I am grateful.

The time may come when I am less focused on managing my present challenges that demand so much of me.   Perhaps then I’ll be able to concentrate on the developmental task of finding the meaning of my life and avoiding despair.

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