On the brink

Language (A4 acrylic paint and pebbles 2018)

Recently, a new book by pianist Susan Tomes (published by the company where I work) was reviewed in a prestigious classical music magazine.  “[The author] is now in her mid-sixties but her tone of voice is that of a much younger person – inquisitive, energetic, entrepreneurial and gently provocative” wrote the reviewer. Personally, as someone much of an age with Ms Tomes, I hope that the day that I’m no longer inquisitive is the day that I’m no longer breathing.

Interestingly, I read this the same day as my copy of Parker J. Palmer’s new book arrived, On the Brink of Everything. In it, Palmer explores the questions that age raises and the promises that growing older holds: it is, he writes, “a time to dive deep into life, not withdraw to the shallows.”

For people like me, the notion that old age is a time to dial it down and play it safe is a cop-out. Those of us who are able should be raising hell on behalf of whatever we care about.

PJP has a few years on both Susan Tomes and me, and his spirit and joy in the wonders of everyday life as he approaches 80 are inspiring. He’s the sort of person you’d like to shuffle up close to, hoping that by standing next to him you could see the world as he sees it.

Then, earlier today, driving around Rochester, NY, I heard a programme on public radio about older people who’d picked up the thread of their creative activities – or started something completely new – after a long break. There were storytellers, stand-up comedians, painters and musicians (“I’m supposedly too old to rock,” said one, “but I’m too young to die”): one had given up art to found a business but discovered her life was lacking something without the smell of linseed in her nostrils.

What all had in common was the sense of relief in their voices that they’d returned to “whatever [they] care about”. Certainly that business was important, they’d enjoyed fulfilling careers, but it was the sound of an electric guitar being tuned or that first mark on a blank canvas that was truly important, the thing that fed their souls.

I’ve nothing against the young, of course, but I resent the idea that anyone over 50 should put on a cardigan and dispense toffees to grandchildren and leave life to others. If you can’t be “inquisitive, energetic, entrepreneurial and gently provocative” when you’re older there is something clearly amiss. In fact, the young and the old share a great deal: when you’re young you think you have a whole lifetime ahead of you so why not try something new? In later years, there’s a feeling that if I don’t do it now, I never will. Certainly in my own personal, professional and creative lives I’ve come to relish the leap into the unknown, the heady feeling of free-fall, the rush of adrenaline that comes with a sudden turn away from the expected or the familiar.

The image at the top of this post is a collage. I had a yellowy-orange sheet of paper ready to work up into something, and then scooped up a handful of pebbles from the beach which, I thought, looked like hieroglyphics when laid side by side. It seemed to capture something of the intrigue of a language that I don’t know.


34 thoughts on “On the brink

  1. I just ordered Tomes’ book. As someone who has taken up the piano again after a long, long absense, this sounds like just what I need to help me along in a thoughtful and inspirational way. So many thanks for this post!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m sure you’ll enjoy it, Deborah. I thought long and hard about mentioning the actual book as this is my art blog not an extension of my work, but I thought that some of the people who read this might be interested. Susan Tomes’ remarks on the piano can also be applied more broadly to creativity in general.


  2. I painted with great vigor while young and dropped it to raise the kids (and be able to eat.) Now that I’m a grandmother….once again I paint – this time with a bit more gusto and absolute freedom!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. There are no coincidences-I am meeting with an art coach tomorrow to figure out where I go from here with my photography-it is alternately terrifying and exhilarating to be in this place-I will definitely be looking at both titles-Thank you Michael~

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Before I’d even read a word of this lovely post I thought, Oh good! Another post from Richard! Knowing I’d be refreshed by new thoughts, given an exploration of boundaries, all with eagerness and curiosity. Really, I promise you, that is what was going through my mind. Oh how I agree! Curiosity and the willingness to explore is what makes life lively and worth living! And I must look out for PJP’s book – reading him is the next best thing to shuffling up close (which would be quite something).

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Very well said! I think that when we return to our creative interests a second time around, we are less afraid of failure or of what others might think. And that makes our work stronger. I might just steal PJP’s quotation about diving deeper.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. First off, great collage! You remind me I should return to those Beach I Ching photos one of these days.
    I too don’t understand why anyone would think age changes one’s curiosity or desire to keep doing new things. If anything, one conforms to peer pressure more when young. The “differentness” is all the same. I’ve decided that’s why it’s difficult to tell how old people are once they are no longer young…they no longer look and act like everyone else in their age group.
    Thanks for the book links too! (K)

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Michael, what a beautiful way you have with words AND images. I’m another blogger mentioned in Jean’s post, and so I came her for a look….scrolled down and saw the image above. Your illustrations are great but something about the pebbles on that brushed yellow ground got to me. Then I read, and empathized totally – yeah, if I’m not still curious, forget it! That reviewer was condescending. I’m going to follow you and take a look around (I confess to being a lapsed botanical illustrator and I love looking at illustration). Thank you for being here, and have a great holiday and a New Year that brings you many new things and ideas.

    Liked by 1 person

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