A Guide to Artful Aging

A lot of us “older people” feel that there is a dearth of good guidance and support for addressing us as the important culture that we have become. In a recent newsletter, a noted retirement entity posted several apparently sound guidelines for improving the experience of aging. The topics, written by a well-known author, included “Thirteen luxuries we deserve after 50,” “Things we are too old to say after 50,” “Things to try at least once after 50,” “Things never to wear again after 50.”I was amused at the titles of the articles, but also a bit aggravated, because I am 69. Age 50 for me was a long time ago, a much younger time when those topics would have sounded even more ridiculous. I remembered that I received several “Over The Hill” cards on my fiftieth birthday at the time. It was a popular theme and most of the cards featured a lot of black images and the verses had a kind of dismal, cautionary humor.I don’t see that “Over The Hill” theme these days on the drug store card shelves. I think it is because “fifty plus” is no longer “over the hill.” Fifty is so young now. It has become the new middle age. By my own friend-connections, my art instruction website and teaching art classes, I see that sixty is pushing into that demographic as well. It is evident that us “old people” are getting younger. Many in my age group of age 65-75, are not “over the hill” by those past standards. That theme has definitely lost credibility for 2011.AM I DIFFERENT?
I read the 50+ articles posted in the newsletter and was not enlightened and rather perturbed. What? Wear this instead of that? Downsize to a smaller, sporty car? Don’t say, “like” or “dude.”? Get a massage once a week? Get a chef -cooked meal, once a week? These recommendations certainly did not address my present reality or my budget.OK, I thought, maybe I’m different than other folks of my age group. I work at the Home Depot part time, I teach art classes, maintain a website on free online art classes, work on my oil paintings every chance I get and walk my dog Charley on the beach several times a week. Am I different?I began to wonder how many readers had reacted the same way I did. I was surprised to see a volume of over three hundred replies to the newsletter 50+ guidance articles, most of which were negative for much the same reasons I had. Many felt that the guidance in the articles did not relate to them for many of the same reasons I had: They couldn’t afford a message once a week, they certainly could not afford a chef coming in to cook their meals, they needed a minivan for the grand kids and the sporty car was definitely out of the question, the son-in-law and daughter who had moved back with them made them need more room, not less-downsizing to a cute little beach condo was not going to happen, they wanted more animals as rescue pets to enhance their life or for their farm, or as livestock to enrich their farm business. For many replies, changing their wardrobe as well as changing speech patterns seemed silly and counter-productive.

As I read more comments, the demographic became clearer. Like me, many of us in the 65-75 age group are very active, have part time jobs, additional small venues that earn a little money on the side (websites, hobbies, services, odd jobs, etc.) and many have family that has returned and moved in for any number of reasons. Many (like me) have made money and lost money.Many had a good job and, at age 50 or older, learned that if you lose your job, you may have to learn something new so you can get another job and they are passing that wisdom on to their children. And that wisdom is well taken. I noted that many of us have become experts in our own way, sharing our lifelong knowledge and wisdom as grandparent, parent, small business consultant, website and blog writer, online article writer, community volunteer and social worker.We have learned that giving our wisdom, addressing the needs of people and supplying the information they need, many of us “older folks” have found new and creative ways of enriching our lives by being useful to others. Images of sitting on the porch in a rocking chair and watching the world go by is a fantasy that does not relate to our new reality. Granted, there are still many of the 65-75 age group that enjoy total leisure and a substantial retirement check, but, unfortunately, they are, in this American dream, a minority.THE LARGEST GROUP
Most of us, who have continued to exist and do fairly well into our 60′s, 70′s, 80′s, and 90′s are unparalleled historically. We are the largest group of “old” people to date on this earth. We present a new and lucrative marketing opportunity for lifelong learning happiness guidance from doctors, lawyers, social workers, psychiatrists, self-help authors, realtors, retailing venues, and many more who can address our needs. And, there are more of us to come so the ground is fertile for new ways of addressing the large, “sixty-and-beyond” community in the near future.And, we are a new group, a new culture, which is beginning to garner global information to support our needs. The next 50+ tide will be even more conversant in global technologies and just as interested in new ideas, strategies and products on how to improve their lives as they age.GUIDANCE
There are a lot of guides and instructors out there for the 50+ community–some good ones and definitely some guides that aren’t worth much. Because the 50+ age group is a good marketing subject these days, there is an increasing amount of advice in magazines, the Internet, mailings and TV. Also, senior centers, community colleges, life long learning programs in colleges and universities are hosts to lecturers and instructors who, hopefully, present useful guidelines and information regarding aging.In this age of “experts,” unfortunately, a minority of advisers are just trying to get a marketing space and make money on their “expertise” through videos, books, blogs, websites, lecture tours, etc. Often I find their counsel degrading, insulting, or useless. The profile of their businesses often assumes that older people are weak and unable to make good logical decisions on what is best for them so they can be manipulated. As there is a section of my age group that relate to that profile because of health problems and other disabilities, this section is often the most accessible for scams and being duped by so-called “experts.” Most of us are not there, yet, however.The majority of experts on aging guides, I find, actually have the well being of older people in mind and give meaningful and often inspiring, life-changing information. It can be daunting for an older person trying to find who can give the best advice.GUIDELINES
What are some of the things to look for as good guidelines for useful information to improve our lives as we age? Here are some guidelines I have created for anyone 50+ that seeks assistance in determining the right and helpful information for life long happiness and beyond:Credentials. Because an author wrote a best seller on guides to aging well, or has many degrees (medical, psychiatric, philosophical, etc.) this does not necessary guarantee that their information is right for you. If the information you perused was not useful to you, seek other resources. The best advice and guidance may not necessary come from a best-seller luminary or certified, highly degreed specialist.

Support. Does the information offer good support and understanding of you and your age group? Does the information resonate, that is, do you feel that you are inspired to make changes in your life and that they will be for the better? If not, perhaps you should move on and keep searching. Find what feels good for you.Inspiration. Does the information inspire, nurture and give clear, understandable and believable directives towards a better life? What feels good often is good. Feeling good might be a challenge. Many of us have been taught that feeling good about ones life and ones future is questionable. I have learned, by my own experience, that the “feel good” mechanism encourages the body and mind to create, enrich and enhance daily lives. From being an art instructor for over thirty years I see that this “feel good” mechanism can enrich and enhance lives in many ways.Relevance. Is the information relevant? Does it relate specifically to you? Can you easily use the guide’s information and incorporate it into your daily life?Sharing. Would you readily and enthusiastically share this information with others?Cost. Are you paying for this information? If so, how much, and do you think it is worth it?Years ago I wrote “The Artful Life Program” for a small business class in Western Massachusetts. I had to develop all of the financials, profile the facilities, project the market and many other factors that have to be defined when starting a small business.I can see that the Internet has proven that this lively intercommunication on a global scale presents the opportunity for our aging culture-the 60-75 plus community. As we are older, with our accumulated knowledge, we can enlighten, encourage, and support all those that seek out what we know.We should expect no less from those that offer to guide us.