What’s all this about getting old means your creativity goes into retirement?
Waking up this morning at 5am on the couch downstairs it once again dawned on me that I’m in my late 50s. I’m unequivocally old now. So why, against all received wisdom, am I still writing, making music and images – and not even making money out of any of these creative acts?
(I have other work that does pay. I’m not a character from Knut Hamsun’s Hunger after all)
In the last year and a half I’ve written and a 400+ page novel, I’ve started work on a new album of music, I’ve made several hundred images (one day a gallery), and I’ve produced some decent poetry that I’ll be turning into an illustrated book.
The Internal Critic: “Hold on, pal, you’ve admitted that you’ve made no money out of any of this. Can’t be any good can it? Probably best if you stopped this tedious beat and started gardening, which is a very creative thing to do for a man of your encroaching age and, at your best as time had told us, your hack ability”.
See, that’s one of the reasons that age negates creative output. When you’re younger, that Internal Critic, isn’t seasoned. In your youth, the Internal Critic has more teeth than now but it doesn’t quite know where or more importantly, when to bite. As you age, it learns about you because it experiences everything with you. It’s always there.
When you’re younger and just cranking out ideas and dreams as pictures, words, tunes, as anything external to yourself that you’d like the world to see, you can stifle your external critic when it tells you, “Why bother? No one cares. You look foolish with all this hack cliché”. You may not be able to silence him or her, but you can do what you do when you’re younger, you can outrun it for a while so its constant shout becomes a whisper behind you.
But always there.
The Internal Critic: “Oh Christ, not that idea, I mean haven’t you seen Jenny XY do that? She’s brilliant, what on earth do you think you can add with that piece of tawdry mediocrity? If you don’t destroy it, at least hide it before someone hears it. I’m doing you a favour here … get outside and prune something before your knees give in completely”.
Of course, no matter how mad the idea is that older people can’t synthesise new, creative ideas from decades of experience; no matter how laughable is that nonsense, the Internal Critic will make it sound sensible. It will be Common Sense, and COMMON SENSE as we know, is a devastating weapon in the hands and from the mouths of idiots with vicious intent.
The External Critic: “That’s fantastic, I really like that. Of course I’ll read, listen to, look at the rest of it when I have the time but right now I’ve got bowls to play”.
OK, I admit it, this happens to everybody at all ages. However, when you’re setting controls for the heart of the cardiac unit, and you actually are more interested in the articles than the pictures – even though the text is too small to read – you just know that it’s never going to happen.
When you were younger, you actively hoped that your friends would critique your work (by this I mean, adore, worship and disseminate widely). The older you grow, and the more life intercedes in imagination, the more you’re just happy when someone you know smiles when you mention you’ve written a poem about the ebb and flow of love and seasons. As for reading it! As for critiquing it; as for that, the older you get, the more likely you are to faint dead away at the merest of hints. To receive an engaged critique of your work would mean accepting and embracing the idea that what you’re putting out there is work, is an opus.
The Internal Critic: “Rather than a daub, a trope, a visual cliché of such shallow malformation that your shame should be as all encompassing as a shroud?”
The very thing. Yes. Thank you. You see, age also brings the comfort of familiarity, that feeling you hated when you were young and striking out and away from cloying domesticity. The Internal Critic is a voice you’ve known since you were able to make sense of sensations. It may not be friendly, but it does presume authority from… I assume from God, but I was born Catholic so what the fuck, eh?
The Internal Critic: “I’m only doing this for your own good, so you don’t embarrass yourself, and anyway you’re tired and worn out, and your, why not stop and rest? And you know what they say, the geniuses of the world did all their best work by the time they were 27… (whispers: when you were mostly drunk and appallingly gauche anyway)”.
Well, bless your rotten heart for that. Bless it into the ground. I’ve never mentioned that I thought anything I’ve ever done is even approximating genius. That’s your schtick. Anyway, What about Paul Cézanne? What about Raymond Chandler? What about Bela Bartók? All created works of wonderful beauty when they were old?
The Internal Critic: Yes, yes, geniuses all. Exceptional. They were exceptional. That’s the point. Don’t you see? And you really should stop referring to what we do as ‘work’ when it’s very definitely ‘hobby’. Oh, maybe it’s time for a beta blocker and a nice cup of Jasmine tea. Bless”.
Yes, come to think of it, maybe it it is. Maybe we’re right.
(Bollocks to that!)