While wandering around the Internet I discovered an archived story from National Public Radio in the US called "Does Age Quash Our Spirit of Adventure?" The reporter referenced psychology professor Dean Keith Simonton of UC Davis, citing his idea that those who are "eminent"—defined as those who had been quite successful early in life—tended to be locked into the patterns of early life, while those who are, ahem, "late bloomers" tend to remain more open to new ideas in middle age.
This sounded like pop psychology to me, but interesting enough to send me scurrying around the Internet looking for more. I couldn't find any other mention of Professor Simonton's theory of eminence and a decline in creativity, but I did go on to read several articles on creativity and novelty-seeking in middle age.
When I was growing up, "middle aged" was a synonym for "boring." Looking ahead across the gulf of years it appeared to me to be a time of life inhabited by people content with a dull routine, with little interest in the new.
Having reached the respectable middle age of fifty-two, I'm happy to report the reality I've experienced is quite a bit different from that.
Definitions of middle age vary. In my own mind I think of it as late forties and onward to some still-to-be-determined point that varies with the individual.
Everyone who arrives at this phase of life arrives along a different path, but for many, the tumultuous years of teenage children and aging parents are passing and the focus begins to shift. There is an awareness that the clock is ticking ever more loudly, which can be a great motivation to buckle down and concentrate on whatever your personal interests might be—be that traveling the world, writing a new novel, starting your own business, or something else particular to you—because if you don't do it now, when will you?
Assuming, of course, that you're still interested in pursuing new goals...
Ironically, the lure of nostalgia often seems strong among SF fandom, but my guess is that as a regular reader of Charlie's Diary, you've probably got the whole curiosity/novelty-seeking behavior pattern intact, no matter where you sit along the timeline.
I ultimately tracked down an interview with Professor Simonton in the New York Times in which he's asked questions on creativity and aging. He says that whether creativity burns out or not depends a lot on the sort of creativity you engaged in during youth.
"[...the painter Paul] Cézanne had a particular vision of the world that was so complex and rich that it would take more than one lifetime to explore, and so he kept on going...
"Usually the people who keep going are the ones who are open to new experiences... Do something different. Take a risk. Try to believe in the future tense."
For women especially, middle age can be liberating. Maybe it's a generational thing, but in my experience men commonly acquire self-confidence early on (maybe too early) while many women take longer to reach a point where they really believe in their own talents. Self-doubt gets enforced by a sense of being forever judged by society, (and by other women), on looks, accomplishments, social adeptness, family, etc. On twitter there have been intermittent back-and-forths about women's "self-talk" and how we tend to berate ourselves, and tear ourselves down because we're never "good enough". But I've asked around, and there comes a point for a lot of us where it gets much easier to say, "Whatever". One of the rewards of aging is learning to not give a damn about the opinion of those with nothing productive to say, as well as the nagging little perfectionist voice in the back of your own head.
Even so, it's a great time to optimize. It's a goal at any age to stay fit, but more so, the older you get. I try not to proselytize, but if you're not working out and you're in a mood to be persuaded, there's a fun book on fitness called Younger Next Year by Chris Crowley and Henry S. Lodge. It's premise is simply that you should exercise hard six a days a week and don't eat crap. Everything else is details and inspiration, but it's definitely worthwhile to read and I highly recommend it. And no, I don't actually manage to exercise six days a week, but that remains the ever-elusive goal, because I have a lot of books I still want to write, challenging books, and research shows that the best way to nurture the mind and to maintain creativity is to exercise.
Charlie will be returning home before too long. I want to thank him for the opportunity to guest blog, and thank all of you for the conversation this past week. It's been a great experience.