Julia Cameron has inspired millions with her bestseller on creativity, The Artist’s Way. In It’s Never Too Late To Begin Again, she turns her eye to a segment of the population that, ironically, while they have more time to be creative, are often reluctant or intimidated by the creative process. Cameron shows readers that retirement can, in fact, be the most rich, fulfilling, and creative time of their lives.
When someone retires, the newfound freedom can be quite exciting, but also daunting. The life that someone had has changed, and the life to come is yet to be defined. In this book, Cameron shows readers how cultivating their creative selves can help them navigate this new terrain. She tells the inspiring stories of retirees who discovered new artistic pursuits and passions that more than filled their days—they nurtured their souls.
This twelve-week course aimed at defining—and creating—the life you want to have as you redefine and re-create yourself, this book includes simple tools that will guide and inspire you to make the most of this time in your life:
- Memoir writing offers an opportunity to reflect on and honor past experience. This book guides you through the daunting task of writing an entire memoir, breaking it down into manageable pieces.
- Morning Pages—private, stream-of-consciousness writing done daily—allow you to express wishes, fears, delights, resentments, and joys, which in turn, provide focus and clarity for the day at hand.
- Artist Dates encourage fun and spontaneity.
- Solo Walks quell anxiety and clear the mind.
This fun, gentle, step-by-step process will help you explore your creative dreams, wishes, and desires...and help you quickly find that it’s never too late to begin again.
About the Author
Emma Lively is a classical violist turned writer, composer, and lyricist working in musical theater and animation. She has served as Julia Cameron’s business manager for a decade.
Read an Excerpt
Twenty-five years ago I wrote a book on creativity called The Artist’s Way. It spelled out, in a step-by-step fashion, just what a person could do to recover—and exercise—their creativity. I often called that book “The Bridge” because it allowed people to move from the shore of their constrictions and fears to the promised land of deeply fulfilling creativity. The Artist’s Way was used by people of all ages, but I found my just-retired students the most poignant. I sensed in them a particular problem set that came with maturity. Over the years, many of them asked me for help dealing with issues specific to transitioning out of the work force. The book you hold in your hands is the distillate of a quarter century’s teaching. It is my attempt to answer, “What next?” for students who are embarking on their “second act.” In this book you will find the common problems facing the newly retired: too much time, lack of structure, a sense that our physical surroundings suddenly seem outdated, excitement about the future coupled with a palpable fear of the unknown. As a friend of mine worried recently, “All I do is work. When I stop working, will I do . . . nothing?”
The answer is no. You will not do “nothing.” You will do many things. You will be surprised and delighted by the well of colorful inspiration that lies within you—a well that you alone can tap. You will discover that you are not alone in your desires, and that there are creativity tools that can help you navigate the specific issues of retirement. Those who worked the Artist’s Way will find some of the tools familiar. Other tools are new, or their use is innovative. This book attempts to address many taboo subjects for the newly retired: boredom, giddiness, a sense of being untethered, irritability, excitement, and depression, to name just a few. It seeks to give its practitioners a simple set of tools that, used in combination, will trigger a creative rebirth. It attempts to prove that everyone is creative—and that it is never too late to explore your creativity.
When my father entered retirement after a busy and successful thirty- five years as an account executive in advertising, he turned to nature. He acquired a black Scottie dog named Blue that he took for long, daily walks. He also acquired a pair of birding binoculars and found that the hourly tally of winged friends brought him wonder and joy. He spotted finches, juncos, chickadees, wrens, and more exotic visitors, like egrets. He lived half the year on a sailboat in Florida and half the year just outside of Chicago. He enjoyed the differing bird populations and was enchanted by their antics. When it got too dangerous for him to live alone on his boat, he moved to the north permanently, settling into a small cottage on a lagoon. There he spotted cardinals, tanagers, blue jays, owls, and the occasional hawk. When I would visit him, he would share his love of birding. His enthusiasm was contagious, and I found myself buying Audubon prints of the birds my father was spotting. Mounted and carefully framed, the prints brought me much joy. My father’s newfound hobby soon became my own, if only in snatches.
“It just takes time and attention,” my dad would say. Retired, he found he had both. The birds kept my father company. He was thrilled when a great blue heron established a nest within his view. Visiting my father, I would always hope for a glimpse. The herons were lovely and elegant. My father waited for them patiently. His patience was a gift of his retirement. During his high-powered and stress-filled career, he had no dog and no birds. But nature had called to him, and it was a call he was only able to respond to fully once he retired.
At age fifty-four, I moved to Manhattan. At age sixty-four, entering my own seniority, I moved to Santa Fe. I knew two people who lived in Santa Fe: Natalie Goldberg, the writing teacher, and Elberta Honstein, who raised champion Morgan horses. It could be argued that I had my two most important bases covered. I loved writing and I loved horses. In my ten years in Manhattan, I had written freely, but I didn’t ride. It was an Artist’s Way exercise that moved me to Santa Fe. I had made a list of twenty-five things that I loved, and high on that list were sage, chamisa, juniper, magpies, red-winged blackbirds, and big skies. In short, a list of the Southwest. Nowhere on the list did New York put in an appearance. No, my loves were all Western flora and fauna: deer, coyotes, bobcats, eagles, hawks. I didn’t think about my age when I made my list, although I now realize that the move from New York to Santa Fe might be my last major move.
Allotting myself three days to find a place to live, I flew from New York to Santa Fe and began hunting. I made a list of everything I thought I wanted: an apartment, not a house; walking distance to restaurants and coffee shops; mountain views. The first place the Realtor showed me had every single trait on my list, and I hated it. We moved on, viewing listing after listing. Many of the rentals featured pale carpeting, and I knew from my years in Taos that such carpeting was an invitation for disaster.
Finally, late on my first day of hunting, my Realtor drove us to a final house.
“I don’t know why I’m showing you this,” she began, winding her way through a maze of dirt roads to a small adobe house with a yard strewn with toys. “A woman with four children lives here,” she apologized. I peered into the house. Toys and clothing were strewn every which way. Couches were shoved chockablock.
“I’ll take it,” I told my startled Realtor. The house was nestled among juniper trees. It had no mountain views. It was miles from restaurants and cafés. Yet, it shouted “home” to me. Its steep driveway would be treacherous in winter, and I sensed that I would have to become accustomed to being snowbound. But it also featured a windowed, octagonal room surrounded by trees. I knew my father would have loved this “bird room.” I made it my writing room, and I have appreciated my daily dose of aviary enlightenment every day that I have lived here.
I have lived in this adobe house halfway up the mountain for almost three years now, collecting books and friends. Santa Fe has proven to be hospitable. It is a town full of readers, where my work is appreciated. Often, I am recognized from my dust jacket photo. “Thank you for your books,” people say. I put my life in Santa Fe together in a painstaking way. My friendships are grounded in common interests. I myself believe creativity is a spiritual path, and my friends number many Buddhists and Wiccans among them. Every three months, I go back to Manhattan, where I teach workshops. The city feels welcoming but overwhelming. I identify myself to my students as “Julia from Santa Fe.” I love living there, I tell them, and it’s true.
My mail comes to a rickety mailbox at the foot of my drive. I have to force myself to open the mailbox and retrieve it. So much of what I receive is unwelcome. In March of my first year in Santa Fe, I turned sixty-five. But it was in January that my mail became infested with propaganda related to aging. Daily, I would receive notices about Medicare and special insurance targeting me as a senior. The mail felt intrusive, as if I were being watched. Just how, precisely, did the many petitioners know that I was turning sixty-five?
I found myself dreading my birthday. I might have felt young at heart, yet I was officially categorized as a senior. The mail went so far as to solicit my payment on a gravesite. Clearly I was not only aging, I was nearing the end of my life. Did I want my family saddled with burial costs? No, I did not.
The mail became a mirror that reflected me back in a harsh and unforgiving light. My laugh lines became wrinkles. My throat displayed creases. I thought of Nora Ephron’s memoir I Feel Bad About My Neck. When first I read it at sixty, I thought it was melodramatic. But that was before I felt bad about my own neck, before I turned sixty-five and became a certified elder.
The term “senior” officially applies to those sixty-five and older. But not everyone who is called a senior feels like a senior. And not everyone who retires is sixty-five. Some retire at fifty, some at eighty. Age is a relative thing. Most working artists never retire. As director John Cassavetes put it, “No matter how old you get, if you can keep the desire to be creative, you’re keeping the man-child alive.” Cassavetes himself was a fine example of what might be called “youthful aging.” He both acted and directed, making and attending films that reflected his own convictions. Working with an ensemble of actors that included his wife, Gena Rowlands, he told tales of intimacy and connection. As he aged, Cassavetes cast himself in his films, portraying troubled and conflicted men. His passion was palpable. Even if he played the oldest character in the movie, he was always young at heart. Taking a cue from Cassavetes, we can retain a passionate interest in life. We can throw ourselves wholeheartedly into projects. At sixty-five, we can still be vibrant beginners.
I’m told the median age in Santa Fe is sixty. It’s true that when I go grocery shopping I note many elders pushing carts. People retire to Santa Fe. I have almost become used to the question, “Are you still writing?” The truth is, I cannot imagine not writing. I go from project to project, always frightened by the gap in between. I catch myself distrusting my own process. No matter that I have forty-plus books to my credit, I am afraid that each book will be my last, that I will finally be stymied by age.
Recently, I went to talk to Barbara McCandlish, a gifted therapist.
“I’m sad,” I told her. “I’m afraid I’ll never write again.” “I think you’re afraid of aging,” said Barbara.
“I think if you write about that, you’ll find yourself writing freely again.”
The answer is always creativity.
Theater playwright Richard Nelson throws himself into new projects. His age is not an issue. One of his more recent works, the theatrical cycle The Apple Family Plays, sets an example of just what is possible with commitment.
Excellent writer John Bowers published his first novel, End of Story, at age sixty. At age sixty-four, he is hard at work on a second novel, longer and more ambitious than his first—and he’s quick to remark that Laura Ingalls Wilder published Little House in the Big Woods when she was sixty-four. John opened his recent book signing in Santa Fe by remarking that the bright stage lights revealed his many wrinkles. An attractive man, he carries his age lightly—despite his jokes. To my eye, his active creativity is keeping his spirit far younger than his calendar age.
My friend Laura, in her mid-sixties, takes strenuous classes in the dance form Zumba at her local Chicago gym. “I manage to keep up,” she says modestly. In truth, she does more than keep up. Her posture is proud and her energy is electric. “It’s just three times a week,” she tells me. But it is clearly enough to make an impact on both her physique and her optimism. Laura has always loved to dance—ever since her childhood ballet classes—and in finding an exercise routine that delights her playful and creative nature, she’s positively glowing—and exercising more consistently now than she ever has before.
Silver-haired but fit, Wade recently retired from a long career in academia. Well-known for his charismatic lectures in the philosophy department at his university, he still surprised himself in retirement when he felt a strong pull to take an acting class. As a young man, he had enjoyed being an active member of his local community theater. Now, he pursues acting with passion, recently undertaking the Jack Nicholson role from As Good As It Gets in the very same community theater he once haunted in his youth. “My return to the stage,” he chuckles. His excitement is palpable, and the younger members of the troupe are eager to hear his stories of days past.
In their retirement, both Laura and Wade saw themselves returning to passions from their youth. There is no mistake here. There are clues in all of our lives that point to what will bring us joy in our own “second act.”
My friend Barry, who loved to take photographs as a child on his Brownie camera, rediscovered this passion almost immediately after retiring from a long career in communication technology. He began taking photos, enjoying learning about the magic of digital cameras, and soon playing around in Photoshop to alter the images he took. He now posts his photos daily on Facebook, and they are mysterious and beautiful, sometimes capturing a more literal image, and sometimes showing a manipulated version of the original shot to convey his own unique impression, his own artist’s eye. Often he will adjust an image until it is reminiscent of a classic painting.
“When I was about five,” he tells me, “I would sit in my dad’s lap as we looked through Rockwell Kent’s World-Famous Paintings. He would read me the captions. We did this for several weeks, and I looked at a lot of art. It stuck with me.” When his friends remark that he has always known his calling, he is humble. “I just didn’t know that I knew it,” he says. “That’s probably true for a lot of people.”
As Picasso remarked, “Every child is born an artist. The trick is remaining one as an adult.” Passion, commitment, and most of all, the courage to be a beginner, are the qualities that it takes—and qualities that are well within our grasp.
Recently I had dinner with an artist friend. Now sixty-seven, he still works daily as a writer, radio personality, and teacher. The conversation wandered to my current writing and my musing on the subject of retirement.
“Artists don’t retire,” he said simply.
It’s true. Tom Meehan, at eighty-three, had two musicals on Broadway in one season. Today, at eighty-six, he has a new show in the works. Roman Totenberg, an esteemed violinist and teacher, taught—and performed—until his final days, well into his nineties. Frank Lloyd Wright passed on at ninety-one with an unfinished building standing in Oak Park, Illinois. B. B. King toured until six months before his death, at age eighty-nine. Oscar Hammerstein II lived until he was only sixty- five, but just long enough to see The Sound of Music open on Broadway. His final song, “Edelweiss,” was added to the show during rehearsal.
What do we all have to learn from this? Self-expression is something that does not—and should not—ever stop. Each of us is creative. Each of us has something unique to bring to the world. We have both time and experience on our side. Retirement is a time to tackle projects and unlock dreams, a time to revisit the past and explore the unknown. It is a time to design our future.
Basic Principles for Creativity Recovery
1. Creativity is the natural order of life. Life is energy—pure, creative energy.
2. There is an underlying, indwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.
3. When we open ourselves to our creativity, we open ourselves to the creator’s creativity within us and our lives.
4. We are, ourselves, creations. And we, in turn, are meant to continue creativity by being creative ourselves.
5. Creativity is God’s gift to us. Using our creativity is our gift back to God.
6. The refusal to be creative is self-will and is counter to our true nature.
7. When we open ourselves to exploring our creativity, we open ourselves to God: good, orderly direction.
8. As we open our creative channel to the creator, many gentle but powerful changes are to be expected.
9. It is safe to open ourselves up to greater and greater creativity.
10. Our creative dreams and yearnings come from a divine source. As we move toward our dreams, we move toward our divinity.
HOW TO USE THIS BOOK
It’s Never Too Late to Begin Again is a twelve-week course for anyone who wishes to expand his or her creativity. It is not meant only for “declared” artists. It is aimed at those transitioning into the second act of life—leaving one life behind, and heading into one yet to be created. For some, this may mean retiring from the formal work world, for others this may mean facing an empty nest once the children have grown up and left home, for still others this may simply mean rejuvenating the creative spirit when suddenly branded “senior citizen.”
Each week, you will read the week’s chapter and complete the tasks within. You will work with four basic tools: the daily tool of Morning Pages, the once-weekly Artist Date, and twice-weekly solo Walks. The Memoir will unfurl over the entire twelve weeks, as you revisit your unique story one manageable section at a time.
Twelve weeks—three months—may seem like a long time, but think of it as a few-hours-weekly investment in the next phase of your life.
Table of Contents
Week 1 Reigniting a Sense of Wonder 1
Week 2 Reigniting a Sense of Freedom 21
Week 3 Reigniting a Sense of Connection 45
Week 4 Reigniting a Sense of Purpose 65
Week 5 Reigniting a Sense of Honesty 83
Week 6 Reigniting a Sense of Humility 109
Week 7 Reigniting a Sense of Resilience 125
Week 8 Reigniting a Sense of Joy 147
Week 9 Reigniting a Sense of Motion 171
Week 10 Reigniting a Sense of Vitality 195
Week 11 Reigniting a Sense of Adventure 221
Week 12 Reigniting a Sense of Faith 241