Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Writing: the Fountain of Youth? by Alison Henderson

OG and I recently watched an excellent documentary on HBO entitled "If You're Not in the Obit, Eat Breakfast." It featured 95-year-old Carl Reiner and a group of his nonagenarian friends talking about what it's like to be old--REALLY old. Through interviews and conversations, the film explores the question of vitality in old age: What does it look like, who has it, and why? Is it the result of genetics, attitude, modern medicine, or plain old-fashioned luck?

At 68 and 62, OG and I are definitely feeling our age these days. (I won't go into the symptoms--I'm sure you're all familiar with them to some extent.) But compared to Mel Brooks (90), Norman Lear (94), Stan Lee (90), Dick Van Dyke (91), and Betty White (95), we're babies. Listening to these legends talk about aging was as entertaining as it was enlightening. The documentary also featured a number of people who are not household names but who continue to write, paint, dance, and perform the piano as if they were at least thirty years younger.

So what's their secret?

OG and I discussed this at some length and reached the following conclusions:

  1. They have all been blessed with remarkably good health. It's hard to overestimate the value of that. However, Carl Reiner also interviewed 100-year-old Kirk Douglas, who fought back from a massive, debilitating stroke with the ferocity and sheer strength of will of his signature character, Spartacus.
  2. They are very physically active. One of the women interviewed was a 98-year-old yoga teacher and ballroom dancer. Most weren't quite that active, but all exercised regularly and had for decades.
  3. They are all basically upbeat, cheerful, optimistic people. Even though a few of the oldest used canes to get around, they all talked about how much they look forward to each new day, viewing it as another opportunity. How many of us can truly claim that?
  4. And last, but most important: they all do something they love, something creative. They can't wait to get back to it every day and can't imagine not doing it. This seemed to be the key common element. Additionally, and possibly equally as important: these creative pursuits aren't solitary hobbies. The artists share their art with others, and therefore have the potential for achievement and reward, both emotional and financial.
So where does writing fit in? Even allowing for the fact that the majority of the people featured were entertainers, I was struck by the number who write. Carl Reiner and Stan Lee both said they couldn't imagine what life would be like if they didn't have a computer to go to every morning and write. Did you know Betty White has written several books? 

The inescapable conclusion for me was that writing has to be one of the best ways to maintain vitality into advanced age. The act of writing stretches our creativity, our vocabulary muscles, and our emotional reserves. It keeps our brains active and challenged. Each new book we send into the world offers the possibility of reaching others who appreciate our efforts and vision.

I have an idea for one more series I want to write after I finish my current WIP, but lately I'd been wondering whether I wanted to continue to write after that. Now, I think it may be the key to keeping my marbles and enjoying life to the fullest if I'm lucky enough to last into my nineties. 

Write on!
Alison
www.alisonhenderson.com 

18 comments:

Rolynn Anderson said...

Luck is a big factor in the aging process, you are right, Alison. I mean, if my husband's draft number would have come up and he'd gone to Viet Nam.... You know what I'm saying. But I also think HAVING a passion is vital. I know so many older people who don't seem to have larger purposes. We writers are lucky we've found a creative, sustaining outlet. My sister, who works with aging/saging issues (it's a HUGE movement, by the way), meets monthly with a group of women, learning how to meditate, find purpose, and center energies on issues with soul. I call these the 'extra' 20 years...the big surprise we 'get more time.' The question is, what to do with it? And Carl Reiner is still funny...that's the crux of it! I want to be laughing up until the time I croak!

Diane Burton said...

Great post, Alyson. Lots to think about and be encouraged as we age. I've mentioned to my doctor my fear of Alzheimer's because my mother had it. Recently, he asked me if I'm still writing. When I said yes, he said I didn't need to worry about Alz. because I was exercising my brain. I love writing. When anything else I do causes pain in my joints, writing doesn't. I love using my imagination to come up with kooky characters and plot twists. The nonagenarians you mentioned had great advice. Staying optimistic in the crazy-scary world we live in is tough. Focusing on my family, my tiny unit in the scary big world, is enough to make me feel good. My health is a different matter. So is physical exercise. I'm working on that. As my daughter keeps reminding me, I have 3 (about to be 5) grandchildren who need me. And I need them.

Margo Hoornstra said...

Excellent title for this post, Alison. Both body and mind exercise seem to be key. As is an optimistic attitude. All require due diligence. Not easy in, as Diane says, our scary, crazy world. The good news is with us Boomers is there sure are a lot of us. Safety in numbers maybe? I hope so.

Andrea Downing said...

I think you've made a lot of good sense here, Alison--it's definitely a use it or lose it talk. My only fear with writing is having butt in sitting position for such lengths of time--I think that has to definitely be interspersed with more action. Thanks for an inspiring post!

Brenda Whiteside said...

Damn, Alison, your timing on this hit me up side the head. I've just come back from my morning walk which I cut short because of my mood. Grabbed coffee and checked my Amazon numbers and wondered what the heck am I doing? Maybe I'd be happier not writing. Then your blog post. I won't cut my walk short tomorrow, and I guess I'll continue to develop my next series. Thanks for the boost.

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

EXCELLENT post!!! My doctor told me the same thing about Alzheimer's and writing. He said I was keeping my mind active and not staring at the TV. Actually, I could do without the TV. I love writing. If I hit a rough patch, I close that document out and open another story and play with it for a while. I have 5 WIP's, all single titles and 2 perculating in my head. If I can't think of something to write in an hour, I'm on to another story. I admit to not exercising enough. I think I need a dog to walk.

Alison Henderson said...

Rolynn, I think laughter is a big key to those 'extra 20' years. I think I laugh more now than I ever have.

Alison Henderson said...

Diane, I have to remind myself to narrow my focus regularly, too. It's the only way to keep my sanity. I also exercise five days a week--OG does six! I'm writing regularly and doing my best to keep the nuthouse away.

Alison Henderson said...

Margo, I think you've got something with the 'safety in numbers' idea. We can spur each other on in our efforts to stay vital.

Alison Henderson said...

Andi, I no longer have the ability to sit and concentrate for long periods of time, so I'm up moving around for some little thing at least every half hour. I also exercise five days a week. Fingers crossed it's enough!

Alison Henderson said...

Brenda, sometimes serendipity (or the universe) hits us upside the head! I'm so glad it was me this morning. LOL Seriously, I've been struggling with those same thoughts lately, too, but watching this show convinced me to keep up my creative efforts, even if the only one who benefits or cares is me.

Alison Henderson said...

Vonnie, you have the youngest, most active brain of anyone I know. You're an inspiration to us all! However, you're right about the need to find a way to work in a little exercise. That seems to be nearly as important to staying vital to the end--whenever that is.

Jannine Gallant said...

I think exercise and writing may just be the magic formula. I hope so! I walk 2-3 miles every day with the dog. I should do more weight bearing exercise but don't. I write every day. Don't quit, even if you're frustrated with sales. We all are. Just enjoy the process. You don't have to stress over word count to still spend a few hours each day doing what you do best! To you and Brenda, both, your stories are great even if sales are frustrating!

Alison Henderson said...

Jannine, I've concluded you're right. I exercise five days a week and write something most days. Not judging yourself is a tough lesson to learn, but it's one of life's greatest.

Brenda Whiteside said...

I guess we'll just keep on keepin' Alison. It's a jungle out there kiddies.

Alison Henderson said...

It is.

Leah St. James said...

Fantastic post, Alison! My husband had an elderly uncle who had retired from one of the Detroit auto plants, moved back home to Pennsylvania and started a small business fixing and reselling other people's junk. He used to go through old houses and come home with treasures...or stuff that would be treasures. He used to find cash stuffed in nooks and crannies, too--remnants of a generation that lived through the Depression and didn't trust banks. His secret to happiness was to keep busy at something you love. And that, to me, is the message you're conveying. Keep your mind and body in tune to the extent you can. Love it. Thanks for the inspiration!

Alison Henderson said...

Leah, your husband's uncle sounds like a fun fellow to know. He had the right attitude!