Create: Day 77
77 Sunset Trip (nostalgia trip, that is).
When I saw it was Day 77 of Create, the theme song of the old TV show 77 Sunset Strip (two finger snaps) ricocheted through my head. Recently, Warner Brothers announced it was making a film based on the series. The only character I recall –I was very young; many of you weren’t even born in 1958-1964–was the dude who played Kookie, a hair-obsessed hipster. What happened to this flash-in-the-pan cultural phenom? Well, Kookie (aka actor Edd Burnes) was the host of the pilot for Wheel of Fortune, he made a few movies, he even wrote an autobiography, Kookie No More, which title proves he’ll forever be Kookie, a guy with a ducktail and comb in hand (center in photo at left).
Clearly, this guy peaked early…and then flamed out.
I’d just read a New York Times article about how often writers produce their best novels when young, so the youthful-creative-success followed by mature-failure paradigm was on my mind. Evidence cited in the article:
“Flaubert was 29 when he began writing Madame Bovary (and was 34 when it was completed). Thomas Mann was 24 when he completed his first masterpiece, Buddenbrooks. Tolstoy, after a period of dissolution followed by military service, began writing War and Peace at age 34. Joyce, who wrote Ulysses in his 30s, already had two major works behind him. The late-blooming Proust, his youth idled in Paris salons, was only 37 when he began writing Remembrance of Things Past. Even Kafka, the 20th century’s most haunting exemplar of anguished paralysis, was 29 when he wrote The Metamorphosis and 31 when he began The Trial.
Unsurprisingly, in youth-obsessed America, writers have often done their best work early. Melville was 32 when Moby Dick was published after the successes of Typee and Omoo. The writers of the lost generation found their voices when they were very young: Fitzgerald (28, The Great Gatsby), Hemingway (27, The Sun Also Rises). Faulkner lagged slightly behind. He had just turned 32 when The Sound and the Fury was published. Then again, it was his fourth novel.
The celebrated post-World War II generation was just as precocious. Norman Mailer was only 25 when The Naked and the Dead, his classic, and enormous, war novel came out. And James Jones’s even longer work, From Here to Eternity, was published when he was 29. The indefatigable warhorses who grew up in the 1950s were also good very young: Joyce Carol Oates (31, Them, her fifth novel); Philip Roth (26, Goodbye Columbus); John Updike (28, Rabbit, Run); Thomas Pynchon (26, V.).”
Oh! Are you suicidal yet (if you’re past 30…)? This is even worse if you’re over 40. And if you’re in your 50s or beyond? Holster that pen/brush/tutu.
Thank goodness the article goes on to cite exceptions:
“This isn’t to say there are no late-blooming giants of fiction. Joseph Conrad didn’t become a major writer until his 40s (after long years at sea). Katherine Anne Porter was 40 when her first short-story collection was published. Virginia Woolf entered her prime in her 40s. Norman Rush’s first novel wasn’t published until he was in his 50s. Nor is it to say that brilliant young novelists don’t mature into greater ones. Henry James peaked at about 60. Roth reached an extraordinary phase in his 60s. The Bellow of Herzog (49) is a greater artist than the Bellow of The Adventures of Augie March (38), which itself introduced a wholly new aesthetic to the English-language novel. And the Don DeLillo of Underworld (60) far surpasses the DeLillo of End Zone (35).”
So there. Henry James is a god. As a fifty-something fiction writer, I surely don’t want to believe I’m beyond my best work. So I wondered if there were solid research measuring creativity at different phases of life….
That’s not exactly what I came up with. But what I did dig up is interesting.
For instance, one Vanderbilt University paper maintains that young geniuses work through the process of deduction while older masters puzzle inductively and are far more experimental. The study says this characteristic holds for all forms of creativity–poetry to economics, and thus,
“Understanding the careers of modern artists therefore leads to a deeper understanding of the life cycles of human creativity in general.”
The late Gene Cohen, MD, PhD, geriatric physician, psychiatrist, and creativity researcher, and author of The Creative Age: Awakening Human Potential in the Second Half of Life and The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain identifies four phases of older life: Midlife (quest); Liberation (retirement); Late-life summing up; and Encore, and says that as we age we acquire the personal freedom and self-confidence to be more experimental. He maintains this is why so many older individuals become important shapers of society.
This is a time, according to Cohen, when we want to express ourselves through lasting creative contributions–before it’s to late. He cites studies that show that between one’s fifties and late seventies brain cell branching increases in number and length, and this is associated with higher level intellectual functioning. His own research establishes that the two hemispheres of the brain are used more efficiently as life goes on, and the brain becomes vastly more creative.
Yeah! Bring on another birthday!
And if, perchance, old age is not so very kind to you and you succumb to dementia, it’s art and creativity that may save you. A documentary making the rounds of universities and festivals (also available on DVD), I Remember Better When I Paint, shows how people with Alzheimer’s can be helped through exposure to the arts. Apparently, neurologists tell us, parts of the emotional and creative brain are spared in this disease and through painting, for instance, patients can access memories that once were lost.
Create Month 3
What to do so far:
In case you missed a day, the reminders below are clickable.
Turn unproductive activity into creativity.
Kill the angel and tell the truth.
Try ephemeral art.
Take a road trip.
Implement the 7 habits of creative people.
Don’t wait for inspiration.
Avoid online undermine.
Create at any age.
Make a portable Creation Station.
Use something taboo in your art.
Implement unplugged weekends.
Find a mentor or be one.
On the Ides, I’d rather…
Support arts education.
Get older and let your creative brain cells branch.