Dancing with the Muse in Old Age

By Priscilla Long   Reviewed by Victoria Starr Marshall

           Of the many ways ageism can manifest, internalized ageism can be the most insidious. Ageism flows from a social construct of age norms—rules that govern a social clock dictating the timing and order of significant life events such as marriage, parenthood, and retirement. Norms that stereotype the worth and capabilities of older adults—and young people, too, for that matter—are ageist. When we accept age stereotypes to be true when they are not, or not to the degree of the stereotype, and internalize them, it affects our choices, our behavior, even our longevity.

Have you ever thought, “I’m too old to (fill in the blank)?” That’s your internalized ageism talking. You may not want to do something. You may have limiting factors such as health, strength, or disability, but the number of candles on your birthday cake is not the reason to stifle your dreams, goals, and creativity.

Dancing with the Muse in Old Age works against ageism and for creativity,” says Seattle-based author Priscilla Long. “It reflects the new ways of looking at old age—as a potentially dynamic and productive time full of connections to others and deeply satisfying work.”

Long, now 79, is a meticulous researcher. In Dancing with the Muse in Old Age, she distills the best contemporary writing on aging to its essence and inspires us with the stories of creative people who never let their age be a barrier.

With a focus on the arts, Long encourages us to explore our own creative path. “In old age, craft skills, social intelligence, emotional intelligence, learning how to learn, how to connect with others all support the artist who continues to work or even one who is just starting out on a path of creative work.”

Each chapter ends with writing prompts to inspire reflection and self-discovery, such as “Is there a new creative endeavor you might enter into? If you are already an artist, perhaps something different? If you are a poet, might you learn to draw? If you are a master gardener, perhaps you would enjoy working in clay? Write on the possibilities.”

“Death can come at any age,” she writes, “but at the conclusion of old age it will come. Death is our deadline … the time remaining is not forever. This tends to focus the mind. You ask: What do I need to need to finish, what work is most important for me to do in whatever time I have left? What do I want to leave behind?”

One of the things Long recommends we can do is to model how to grow old. “As we who are now growing old shape a new sort of old age—one full of flourishing well-being, social connection, learning, moving our bodies to the extent we are able, and engaging in creative work—we are at the same time helping to reshape the future of everyone else: the middle aged, the young, the generations to come.”

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