A Gathering Voices post by Lynne M. Baab
Last week I wrote about the murder mystery I just published for kindle, Dead Sea: A Novel. I mentioned that I began writing fiction at 37. Between 37 and 44 I wrote eight short stories of various lengths and four novels. At 45 I got my first contract to write a non-fiction book, and I’ve written mostly non-fiction since then.
Two of those non-fiction books are about midlife (Embracing Midlife: Congregations as Support Systems and A Renewed Spirituality: Finding Fresh Paths at Midlife). In both books, I define midlife as the period roughly from 35 to 55 when people usually experience a variety of symptoms that things in their life are changing. The “messengers of midlife” include tears, insomnia, changes in one’s physical body, and an increased need for time for reflection. Only about 10% of people have a true midlife crisis, but most people, if you ask them good questions and listen carefully, will talk about both losses and discoveries that occur somewhere around the middle of one’s life span. Developmentally, a lot is happening inside us around the middle of life.
The discoveries often involve new creative outlets, or recommitment to engage with creative endeavors from earlier in life. I don’t think it’s any accident that I was 37 when I began to write fiction and 45 when I got my first book contract. The drive at midlife toward creativity is one factor. Another factor is the developmental stuff that’s going on in our brains. I see this development mostly through the lens of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. MBTI theoreticians believe that at midlife we begin to grow in competence in our least preferred function.
I’ll attempt to explain this in a way that doesn’t use the language of MBTI type, so people who don’t know type can understand. I was a dreamy child, with my head buried in a book. In my teen years I discovered science and math and developed my analytical side. Between about 21 and 35, I developed my ability to connect with people and use empathy. At midlife I grew in skills related to engaging with the physical world and the sensory information we receive from the world. By most people’s standards, I am still pretty bad at engaging with the physical world, but at midlife I began to see growth in that area.
A variety of ways of thinking, or functions of the brain, are needed in order to write. I’ve noticed that most famous writers began writing either in childhood or at midlife. Some people are just natural born writers, and they were good at it from the beginning. Others of us need time to develop various parts of the brain, and at midlife, much of that development is finally happening. The sensory information that I was finally able to perceive and access at midlife gave me the ability to write concretely and specifically.
When I did the interviews for my midlife books, people talked about all kinds of creative endeavors that they began or rediscovered at midlife: drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, scrapbooking, quilting, sewing, woodworking, gardening, home decorating, journaling, writing poetry, making jewelry, etc. They also talked about the way that various forms of physical activity helped them access their creative inner life. Walking and doing joga were the most commonly mentioned forms of physical activity that people at midlife mentioned in interviews. My interviewees told me over and over that new forms of creativity and engaging with the physical world, developed at midlife, helped them feel closer to God and see God in new ways.
In churches we have special ministries for children, youth, young adults, and seniors. Yet midlife is a rich time of creativity and spiritual growth, and we usually ignore that stage. How weird.