Growing old disgracefully
Hooray….. after extensive research, experts have reached the conclusion that the age we are most likely to feel content and fulfilled with our lives is 58. This challenges all the values our world holds dear: that youth is everything, that women over 50 become invisible and no longer valued, that ageing is to be feared. The phrase ‘middle aged’ does not inspire. It conjures up cosy images of caravans and cardigans, spreading waistlines and narrowing horizons, though the latest ‘grow old disgracefully’ generation would have a lot to say about that.
It’s not the done thing to admit your age, but I’m 58 and for once I agree with the experts. I’m beginning to get the hang of living at last (perhaps I’m just a slow learner). Below the surface of our western culture’s assumptions about life and what makes us happy – the relentless quest after money, ‘stuff’, house, car, looking good, clothes, career, a life partner – runs a deeper, contrary current of values. I have an extraordinary life in spite of no longer having many of the things that are supposed to bring us happiness; a partner, security, a house. I have learned that joy is found in suprising places. Like you I have debts, financial worries, personal fears and demons, family issues and rusty bilges (OK, perhaps you don’t have rusty bilges, but you know what I mean). Those worries and problems will always be there in one form or another, so some time ago I made a decision not to let them eat away at the core of life.
For some reason, autumn is the time for after dinner talks, and I’ve done three in the last 8 days on the theme of ‘Artist Afloat’.The preparation of the slide show and notes has made me reflect on the more unusual aspects of my life, particularly the last few years in which I’ve deliberately set out to do things I’ve never done before, sail boats I’ve never sailed before, meet people I’ve never met and put myself in challenging situations. I’ve been motivated not just by my age group’s urge to ‘seize the day’ but by the search for creative inspiration, new ideas and the growing knowledge – always there but a bit timid – that the more you hurl yourself at life, the more life tends to deliver back in return. Not in terms of tangible or monetary rewards, but those deeper, more sustainable currencies like kindness, friendship, curiosity, knowledge, inspiration and a fund of new ideas.
The talks contain edited highlights of my transformation from London secretary with mid life crisis and negative equity to river dwelling eccentric nautical illustrator. They also contain my usual ‘art is for everyone, not just for artists’ rant, and my top ten tips for drawing boats (summarised on this early blog post
One of my favourite slides from the talk is this one:
I took this photo on passage from Brest home to the UK two years ago. On the whole it wasn’t a particularly easy voyage, with a mismatched crew of nautical hitch hikers on an elderly lugger with temperamental bilge pumps and unhelpful headwinds… but the moment to treasure, as Ben played his fiddle on the wheelhouse in the late afternoon sunshine, was the rare feeling of living completely in the moment. I had a sense of wonder that here I was, somewhere off Ushant in an unfamiliar boat with eight people I had only met the day before, and no-one else in the world knew where I was. I had no mobile phone, no contact with anyone I knew. It sounds irresponsible perhaps, but it was also extraordinarily liberating. It made me realise just how much of our life is pinned down and defined by expectation and obligation, having to be somewhere or other at every moment of the day. Moments that define our lives are not always the easiest or the happiest!
I’ll leave you with some songwords – only to be sung by those of a certain age. You know who you are. The tune is ‘Scarborough Fair’…Are you going to misbehave Past the age you should have grown wise And are you going to embarrass your children As you grow old disgracefully. Are you going to dye your hair pink Learn the banjo, write poetry And are you going to say what you think As you grow old disgracefully Are you going to have some fun Seize the day and dance in the street Your mid life crisis is over and done So now grow old disgracefully If someone says ‘you should know better’ If they say ‘is that wise at your age’ Just tell them that you’ve made a decision To grow old disgracefully Are you going to misbehave Past the age you should have grown wise It’s quite all right to embarrass your children Let’s all grow old disgracefully