Instead of Aging, Be a Work of Art
What would you say if I asked you to consider yourself a work of art?
Could you have fun with this notion? Can you get your creative juices flowing around the possibility?
Or have I already lost you?
I don’t know when I decided to consider myself a work of art. Perhaps it was after years caught up in my shortcomings and flaws. Or maybe it was after years of personal therapy, and a lot of time spent recognizing my habitual thinking patterns.
Maybe I decided to consider myself a work of art when I realized I was aging.
At first, the aging process upset me. It filled me with despair and humiliation. I began to disparage myself and close off my options.
But then I got creative. I decided to let something else emerge and, to my surprise and wonder, the creative process of aging, like any creative process, turned out to be both exhilarating and challenging.
The problem with aging is that we get caught up in old, over-used narratives. We write scripts about our identities and potential, and then we let the scripts guide the course of our lives. We think we have life figured out, so we continuously look for the patterns that confirm the old scripts, passing by anything that may take us on a new or divergent path.
In other words, we age without creating.
Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone De Beauvoir would call this “bad faith.”
Bad faith is when we play a role in a script without variation, without freedom. We stick so close to the script that nothing new or different can happen.
“As far as men go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become.” — Sartre
What if we called ourselves “becoming” instead of aging?
The act of creativity is not about confirming old patterns — it’s about diverging from patterns, wandering and opening to new experience. It’s about mixing and matching unrelated things and creating something that never was before.
It’s about letting something unscripted, and not yet considered, emerge.
Is this truly possible? Dare we open the imaginative process so late in the game?
My colleague Hannah Murray Starobin and I facilitate workshops at Twistingtheplot.com for women over 50, during which we ask the participants to imagine their future selves in some new way. In a recent session, one of the participants worried that imagining her future self could potentially elicit desires and changes that would disorient the other people in her life, her children, husband and students.
When we change our scripts, we change the scripts of others in our lives. And while these changes may be invigorating and inspiring, they can also upset fixed viewpoints and challenge the status quo.
Just like art.
Another workshop participant claimed her future envisioning should be termed “absurd imagining,” because what is really possible after all?” She explained that as a child she was free to imagine herself in bold and daring ways, but now, as a woman in late midlife, she felt there were limitations to what she could realistically imagine.
This brings to mind the notion of writer’s block. I call this a creative aging block.
And this block is something many becoming women encounter.
The problem is that if we block ourselves off from our artful imaginings (even the absurd ones) we interrupt or deter our inner maps to becoming.
Psychological research has proven that autobiographical planning is something that begins with mind-wandering processes. In Wired to Create, psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman describes the process of identity formation as one intrinsically linked to our capacity for creative thinking. In addition, Dr. Kaufman cites a seminal study by E. Paul Torrence illustrating the benefits of not only envisioning but, “falling in love” with one’s future self.
He quotes Torrence:
One of the most powerful wellsprings of creative energy, outstanding accomplishment, and self-fulfillment seems to be falling in love with
something — your dream, your image of the future.
We need not only fall in love with our future self, we must also fall in love with the process of becoming our future self. We must be in love with the process of becoming in an ongoing way. After all, good works of art are never finished.
This process of becoming begins with the decision to consider ourselves a work of art. It is permission-giving. By proclaiming ourselves a work of art we grant ourselves permission to value ourselves. We open the door to re-creating lives and the roles we play. We assign our thoughts, feelings, bodies and surroundings with creative possibility and potential. Everything about our lives, our histories, including our losses, our disappointments and our vulnerabilities become a part of the new weave of experience. We are all unique. We are diverse. We are complex.
Let’s become works of art together in 2017. We can all be co-curators of interesting, diverse women of a certain age.
I am looking forward to it.