Sunday, December 22, 2013

Later Life And The Creative Act

Dale Matson

For most of my working life both as a skilled tradesman and professional, I have been a service provider. As a plumber, psychologist and even a priest, my services have been my product. Additionally, someone else has employed me. Things are different now.

I have witnessed in later life that individuals who retire chose one of two paths. Erik Erikson called the final stage of life, “Ego Integrity versus Despair”. What I believe is missing from the description of this later developmental stage is what I would call renewed generativity. I believe there is a creative urge usually associated with and only recognized in an earlier stage.

I saw it with my mentor Dr. Bob Wilson. He retired from Fresno Unified and was asked to develop a program and curriculum to credential Special Education teachers at Fresno Pacific University. He went on to build a Counseling Program and School Psychology program also. He mastered a laptop computer on his final sabbatical and wrote a textbook for counselors.

I have seen this with others. My friend Chuck Freuler envisioned a half marathon between Clovis and Fresno and called it the “Two Cities Half Marathon”. He recruited all the resources to make it happen. He did this at age 73. This year, he won his age group (85 and up) in the Sprint Triathlon World Championships. Another friend, Frantz Weinschenk, wrote his first book at age 75. He is in his 64th year of teaching at Fresno City College and has a weekly radio program.

Anna Mary Robertson Moses (aka Grandma Moses) began painting in her 70’s. Her exhibitions in the 1950’s broke attendance records all over the world.

I believe developmental psychologists have missed this creative urge in older folks. Also, many of the performance boundaries have been moved in the last decade. Society has expectations about what is socially appropriate for older adults. It is a kind of glass ceiling. An eighty-year-old man climbed Mt. Everest and another finished the Hawaii Ironman. Helen Klein ran a 4:31 marathon at age 80.

I have said all this to note that in general, people do what society expects of them. For those older adults that create new things and break new ground, they are also breaking barriers erected by prejudice and expectation. What I have seen are people who are individualized and slow to be discouraged by society and increasing physical infirmities.

I have recently published my twelfth book. These books have been the product of research, legwork, photography and writing. I have also learned how to create and format the interior by learning publishing programs and typography. None will win a Pulitzer Prize for literature. Most of the books are about backpacking in eastern Fresno County, which is one of the most beautiful places on earth.

These books are also a ‘turn taking’ of sorts. It is my turn to tell a story. It is a story with perspective. My son asked me the big question the other day. “Why do you do it?” I create as an act of love. I cannot, not create these things.

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