Mind

The coolest way to beat mid-life blues is to free your creativity

Forget the sports car, designer threads and other status signifiers.

By Deborah Hill Cone
Confession: I'm never first with any trend. Millennial pink, eyelash extensions, foraging, air fryers, yoga wheels. Missed them all. I still don't know what turmeric is exactly. But I think for once – woohoo! – I am on to something ahead of the rest of the crowd.
It turns out I have been having a trendy kind of mid-life crisis – without even realising it. I thought I was just flailing around being a bit tragic at age 50, trying to recapture my long lost youth, dressing like an art student in scarves and Doc Martens, writing bad poetry and learning the guitar. But actually, I was being hip, hop and happening, baby! Sanctioned by the New York Times, no less.
Because the arbiters of style suggest you forget the usual ways of dealing with the existential angst of your 40s and 50s – buying a sports car, having an affair. They're old hat. These days unleashing your creativity is the coolest method of dealing with the mid-life blues.
It seems that middle-aged codgers have wised up that they can't cure their ennui with rampant materialism. "I'm not hearing people say 'I need to buy one more thing,'" says Lee, a former Nike PR manager who now takes creativity workshops for disenchanted executives of a certain age.
"Remember when people would go out and buy the Porsche? I'm not seeing that anymore. I'm seeing people looking for deeper meaning."
This is right up my alley. These days I catch the bus to varsity with a Stampy backpack (stolen from my kids) and do a bit of interpretive dance in one of my psychotherapy workshops. Not that long ago, I would have thought this was beyond cringey. These days I'm the one in the tie-dyed harem pants – and I really love it.
Because I've realised what makes me feel at peace and content. It is the act of making something, whatever that is. Making meaning, making pots or glitter pictures. The product is almost beside the point.
Because this is where my latest arty incarnation is different from my youthful creative endeavours. Back then, I was all frowny and intense. I was going to write something profound. But what I did mostly was sit around talking about it and drinking Fairhall River Claret out of a box. I didn't produce much of anything.
This is what is known as 'resistance'. These days I come up with more stuff and care less about whether it is good or bad, and more about just doing it. I turn up.
It is a revelation to be creative for its own sake, not because I'm hoping to win an award. Getting old enough to know you're not going to do half the things you imagined at age 17 is a relief in its own
way. Because now you're off the hook. Time is running out, which means it's more important to get it done than it is to get it done brilliantly. It's creation before evaluation – you can't know if it's any good until you do it.
"People see creativity as the solution to the mid-life crisis," says Julia Cameron, author of the bible for mid-life creativity seekers, The Artist's Way, which recommends writing 'morning pages' of whatever comes to mind, just letting it flow. Now 69, Julia also wrote It's Never Too Late to Begin Again: Discovering Creativity and Meaning at Mid-life and Beyond, in which she challenges anyone of any age to take the risk of creating. "Often when we say it's too late for us to begin something, what we're really saying is we're not willing to be a beginner."
I have discovered there is a kind of righteousness in getting up at 5am and writing your 'morning pages', not because you think you are going to be the next Eleanor Catton, but because it makes you feel good. In some ways, the pursuit itself answers the question: 'Is this all there is?' Yep, maybe it is.
It is humbling to struggle with the simplest guitar chords that your kids find a doddle, but I'm also under no illusions how lucky I am. Doing poetry slams aged 50 might be the ultimate bourgeois luxury. Rather than wanting to accumulate more brushed aluminium German appliances and other status signifiers, I want to get rid of stuff and learn to tap dance.
I'm aware this might be a different low-fi way of showing off. Now that conspicuous consumption has lost its prestige, today's elites express their status through inconspicuous logo-less consumption. Their understated expenditure signals that they are knowledgeable and moral, so it's still a brattish kind of ego boost.
In Silicon Valley, A-list entrepreneurs have turned to creativity "soul salons" where they improvise music and have philosophical rap sessions. Creativity guru Jess Magic holds "songversations" where she gets the tech elite to sing freestyle, doing a kind of performance art. "I got Elon Musk to smile," she says. No mean feat.
Now I have to confess something else. The fact that tech magnates are also on an arty kick, rather puts me off. I figure for them it is just another passing fad. Me, on the other hand, dependably unfashionable, will still be making embarrassing art when they have moved on to the next hot thing: flying cars, digital clothes, sparkling pickle juice or whatever. I might write a bad poem about that.

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