Here’s how fast it goes: one moment you’re sliding down the banisters in life, and the next moment, it seems, holding onto the rail and being mindful not to wear socks on the stairs….
I think about aging a lot as I run a writing workshop every thursday with a dedicated group of writers at Queen Anne Manor, a retirement home in Seattle. And every week, I learn something about how best to age, and sometimes, why aging actually is best.
Not in every way, of course. No one wants to not remember names, or take half the day to walk to town. But what I have observed is that even as memory and speed decline, one’s life experience can make up for it.
“If what you are doing depends on knowledge, then you are going to do very well as you get older,” says psychology professor Neil Charness, PhD, of Florida State University. Consider the amygdala, the almond-sized and almond-shaped mass of gray matter deep in the temporal lobe of the brain, responsible for processing both memory and emotions. “Researchers have found that as we get older, our amygdala reacts less to negative things. It still responds when there’s a real threat but is less likely to get fired up every time a passerby frowns at you,” writes Barbara Strauch in The Secret Life of the Grown-Up Brain. “That seems to help us do a better job of maintaining emotional stability. And we all know that those who can calmly assess a situation generally have an advantage.”
As writers, accessing situations is what we do. Each week the participants in my workshop write their way through a specific incident in their lives with surgical precision, an uncanny objectivity, and perhaps more wisdom and understanding than they had ever known. “As we grow older,” finds American Aging Research, “we begin to look at things differently, in a better perspective…. A small bump on the road no longer seems like the end of the world.”
There’s a creative bonus in aging too. “The way our brains age may give us a broader perspective on the world, a capacity to see patterns, connect the dots, even be more creative,” cites Barbara Strauch. “And brain scanners show that the parts of the brain that specialize in daydreaming get more active as we age.”
I have the good fortune to work closely with my group and learn of their lives. And all the while, I am impressed with their calm, their stability and security, their positive outlook in life, open-mindedness and good spirits. Indeed, age seems to enhance the ability to laugh at one’s self, and to enjoy life as it is.
For what’s done is done, and for writers it’s all material.