Why play a musical instrument? Because it feels so good…

 

I’m not going to tell you that I play the flute to stave off dementia, keep my brain cells alive, or because I was inspired by some internet list of Things to do when you’re over 60 which always seem to feature ’Play a musical instrument’.

No, I choose to grapple with a 2-foot long tube of metal equipped with a lot of holes and a mouthpiece so badly designed it takes a week before a beginner can get a single note out of it, because of the amazing feelings I get from playing it.

There’s a delicious excitement, which starts in the pit of the stomach, and tingles down the spine. It’s usually momentary, and doesn’t happen that often, but it is just delightful. I call it ‘that feeling’ to myself, and I’m always hoping for it in any rehearsal. It’s most likely to hit me when I’m playing in an orchestra for a bar or two everything comes together and my puny effort becomes part of something much, much bigger. That’s making music.

Then there’s the adrenalin-boosting thrill where I actually feel my heart beating faster in a section where I’m waiting to put in a flutey ‘peep’, off the beat, one note repeated, getting louder and louder as the orchestra build up to some kind of orgasm underneath me – whoa, steady on, but it really does have that quality of growing excitement, being swept along and just having to do that peep, peep, peep in the right place, with more and more urgency…

Add to this the sense of disbelieving satisfaction that I can actually DO IT. On the odd occasions when a swift string of notes comes out at the right speed, in the right order, and with my fingers apparently acting independently from the rest of my body, just instinctively knowing what to do. If only I could apply that in other areas of life!

Another feeling to treasure is the sound a flute makes, the way it resonates right through my body, when all I did was put my lips together… There’s a deep, woody, richly vibrating tone that the flute can make in its lower register. It’s gorgeous. And amazingly, I can produce that sound.

Those are the feelings I get from the playing of the instrument, but along with those are the fun of mixing with other amateur musicians. The laughter – I have been doubled over and speechless with mirth because my duet pal and I were playing so magnificently, appallingly badly! And there’s also the shared endeavour, the sense that ‘we will get this right, if it kills us!’ Working together, trying to play a tricky passage, taking it over and over again until suddenly, Hey – we did it!

There’s a meditative benefit from flute-playing as well. On my own, when I’m a bit tired, or bored, or sad, I can take the flute out of its box and give it a polish, and tootle through some simple little tunes and magically remove myself from the here and now and give my brain a place to rest and concentrate which doesn’t allow for anxieties or sorrows.

Yes, all of that is why I play the flute. I don’t do it because it’s good for me, I do it because I love it, and even when it’s been so hard to master that I could have cried or snapped it in two across my knee, I still have never wanted to give up.

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Project Finished! New Creativity After 60

Look at this amazing purple beast! The final result from my beginner’s stab at upholstery.

 

Here’s the shabby, dishevelled item it used to be – some transformation, eh!

A chair in need of re-upholstery

Before, it was hidden away under a blanket, too tatty to see the light of day. Now, I drag people off the street to admire it, and every morning take my lovely new velvet brush and perform the satisfying ritual of pile-alignment .

My only problem is that people, and cats, are drawn to it like a magnet – they want to sit on it, for heaven’s sake!

Happy with my creative project, I did learn that I am not a born upholsterer. Tools and I don’t really get on. Tacks and nails fall out or go in on the wonk. I’m too scared to cut. The best bits  were anything to do with fabric, smoothing on wadding, stitching a horsehair lumbar support with string.

None of that mattered though, because I was so well taught by Libby at Bungay upholsterers Perkins & Gibbs.  That woman has the glorious knack of the born teacher of enthusing, demonstrating  and quietly helping (a lot!) so that any hapless student who has bitten off far more than she can chew still ends up full of a sense of achievement.

The real joy, has been in working with others around, all of them are grappling with their own projects.

Even more fun than the process of bringing my weary old chair back to life has been the pleasure of being in the studio amid the quiet buzz of talk and banter, with the interesting people who go there, the dogs who wander in and out, the swags of fabric hanging up, the air of creativity, the sense of connection that Libby and Tam create.

That studio’s a life-enhancing place and I quite fancy upholstering my entire house now, just so I can go back there every couple of weeks for another dose.

It’s great to take on long-neglected creative projects now that there’s a bit more time in life, and some can even be tackled alone. But what I learned this time round is how much more enjoyable it is to go and share the whole thing with a bunch of people who, just at the moments when I was thinking anxiously, this is very purple, had a knack of saying – gorgeous colour.

Do you get a tingle of desire at the thought of making something? Got a project you want to start? Where does the joy lie in creativity for you? Do comment in the box below. And if you enjoy exploring the ins and outs of life beyond 60 with us, enter your email in the box up at the top of the page and you won’t miss a thing. 

Create Some Space at 60+

 

Clear a bit of room, physical and mental, and see what flows in. After all, if you can’t take a bit of time out once you’ve hit 60, then when will you ever, this side of the grave?

Choose a day when you can be alone, plan nothing, and let the events of that day unfold.

I tried it on a showery Friday. At first, it was pleasant. Waking luxuriously, without any alarms. Turning off laptop and phone Take that! We’ll have no more from you for a while.

A gentle meditation. A slow breakfast of oats, coconut milk and fresh raspberries, savouring the mix of texture and flavour.

A walk around the garden in a light rain, something which I would never usually do, preferring to glance at the garden through a window rather than get up close.

Looking back, this was the highlight. Seeing the plants up close, touching cool leaves, soft petals, catching wafts of sweetness from the rambling roses, seeing the glisten of raindrops on leaves and watching tiny insects scurrying about their business.

Without expecting it I dropped into the zone, only noticing where I’d been as I stepped back into the house. What a restful and restorative place the zone is, and available right there, any time. That was worth learning.

And so the morning continued. Picking and arranging a few flowers. Communing with the cat. Quietly tidying and cleaning the bedroom. Experiencing the zen of polishing. At this rate I could become a domestic goddess without even trying.

But then, like water seeping out from beneath a leaking washing machine, desire started to creep into awareness. I’d just like to send my daughter a photo of the polished wood…ring that friend I’m thinking about…go to John Lewis and look for some shoes to wear to a wedding…

As the weather brightened, so did the mood, from inward-looking and contemplative to ‘ooh, let’s go out!’ At 2pm I declared the spacious day done and went out, though the phone stayed off until evening.

The feelings, though – they’ve lingered. The sense of having infinite time, the stepping away from the ‘to-do’s’ into the ‘to be’s’, those were refreshing and brought a sense of possibility and calm. And oddly, since taking that time out, I seem to have found a bit more time, to work on projects that were stuck.

Try it. Even for an hour. Simply sit, or walk. Breathe. Notice. See what happens. Let us know!

Turn it off! Phone management at 60+

‘Doctor, Doctor, I’m addicted.’
‘You are?’
‘Yes, to this little white device that fits in my pocket…’

It’s true. I frown on those who text at the dinner table or gaze at the little screen as they would into their lover’s eyes, but it’s no secret that I belong to the clan.

It’s a weakness

How to wean myself off?

I’ve tried setting targets:  no emailing before breakfast, silencing text alerts, ignoring the ‘Ooh, I’ll just look that up…’ impulse.

Nothing works. Ah, I am weak, where my phone is concerned. Its pull is irresistible.

Put a chocolate bar in my cupboard and three weeks later it’ll still be there, unnibbled. Offer me a glass of wine before 6pm – alright, 5pm – and I can say ‘No’. Honestly, I can.

But ping me a text and I have the devil’s own job not to read it instantly.

Is it about wanting to feel loved and needed? A desperate desire for connection?

I don’t really care why I do it. I just know I want to do it rather less.

How much time?

I thought I’d keep a little log of how much time I spend fiddling about on the net. 

And then I’d ask myself a burning question, like might I not develop my blog mightily, or write a play, or learn to play a piano sonata, or make a velvet cushion, or all the above, in the time that I currently spend tinkering with my phone?

I learned quite a bit from that exercise. First, it’s impossible to chart accurately how many hours disappear down the Internet plug hole because it’s happening constantly, in fragments.

Second, I am more than a little terrified of that blog-development idea. Having far too little time lets me off the hook nicely.

Take a risk

Have a think. What are you not risking, in all that time you’re spending on your phone?

As for how to loosen the grip, try this, I dare you.  Turn off the phone – there’s a button for that, you know. Open a drawer. Drop phone in drawer. Close drawer. Lock, if possible. Go do something exciting or lovely for a while, and forget all about phones.

Let me know what happens. Meanwhile, I’m off to read up on WordPress. Over and out.

Reflections on Henry Marsh’s Buttocks

Reading a review of Admissions, a new book by celebrated brain surgeon Henry Marsh, author of the remarkable Do No Harm: Stories of Life, Death and Brain Surgery, I’m surprised by his admissions about his own ageing.

His retirement…the sight of his elderly sagging buttocks…have made him more fearful. The sudden proximity of death and the disabilities that old age brings….

Blimey. Henry Marsh must be older than I thought. But no. Turns out, H Marsh is only 3 years older than I am.

I drop the review on the duvet.

Elderly sagging buttocks? This is upsetting.

I get out of bed and go to the mirror. Hmm, not too bad – though I haven’t got my specs on.

Nonetheless, I am quite shaken up. Buttocks notwithstanding, I must be getting old too. These ailments of decline that he talks about, they’re round the corner for me too.

If Henry Marsh is feeling the draught and was born in the same decade that I was, then how can I go on pretending that I’m somehow immune from ageing?

Is there a point?

If death is suddenly proximate, and with it the ‘disabilities that old age brings’, is there any point in say, writing a blog. Or buying a bike? Or planting a tree?

Perhaps there’s more point, rather than none. But I still can’t quite shake off the fear.

Over breakfast, the feelings start to drift, but they leave a certain undertone to the morning, which isn’t dispersed by a walk, particularly under a grey sky.

Later, a sausage roll from the nice baker brings some solace and a sense, renewed yet again, of ‘just effing do it’, whatever it is.

This is how it is, I think, beyond 60. We start to see the end of the road in sight. Maybe it’s still a fair way off, maybe not. Most of us don’t know. Can’t know.

Now and then, Henry Marsh’s buttocks or something like them, force us to face up to our mortality. But we can’t hold that feeling for long, or we prefer not too.

By the end of the day, Henry and his sagging bum have receded. But they’ve made an impression.

Onwards, that’s the only answer.

How to tame travel fears over 60

Ah! My old friend, Travel Angst!

A few days before any trip I get a familiar frisson in my gut, and my mind starts working overtime.

‘Something could go wrong,’ it tells me. ‘You might miss the flight/lose your luggage/get blown up by terrorists/die of food poisoning’… on and on it goes. Sometimes my mind shouts so loud, I can’t hear myself thinking!

Why this fear? It’s not based on reason, or fact. And therein lies the key to wrestling myself out of its tentacles.

Familiar Patterns

Help is at hand when I start to notice what’s going on. I’m simply caught up in thoughts, fears and feelings, totally enmeshed as if they were reality, when in fact they’re simply the product of my mind, and I can watch them wander in, and and float away again, as long as I’m aware of what’s going on.

One way to tame the travel terrors, is to welcome them in. Yes – open your arms as if to an old friend. ‘Hello Travel Angst. Fancy seeing you again! Come on in, settle down and let’s have a good old chat about all the dastardly things that might happen when I leave home.’

As soon as I take that approach, the fears shrink. They don’t like being under the spotlight, because they’re quickly shown up for what they are – just thoughts, nothing more.

Taming Your Mind

Try this approach with anything that scares you. Keep a watch on your thoughts, and when they start to shriek their way to a climax, call them out. Say to yourself: ‘Just thoughts’. Name them: ‘I’m having thoughts about fear.’ Open up to them by stopping what you’re doing and taking a few deep breaths. Make space for them, and see if they don’t start to evaporate.

Give this fear-taming technique a try, and let me know how you get on. You can leave a comment below. 

BRING MORE GRATITUDE INTO YOUR LIFE AT 60+

I never used to think about gratitude, but now, Beyond 60, I find it comes more and more to the front of my mind.

Big gratitudes, for simply being alive, and well, and warm. For living in a country that isn’t threatened by war or famine.

And smaller, more personal gratitudes, for the little pleasures that enrich every day life.

It’s good to notice these. Right now, the flame-orange of parrot tulips in the garden, the unfurling of fresh green leaves, the black furry aura of my cat’s sweetly curved haunch as she nestles down beside me.

I’m grateful for these, and when I notice myself noticing them, it enhances the feeling.

Keep a Visible Gratitude Record

Maybe you’ve tried keeping a gratitude journal? It’s something that happiness gurus often suggest. And it’s not without worth. I have a little notebook tucked away with sporadic entries.

But keeping it in a drawer means I forget about it for months at a time. So I decided to make something that I can see, to remind me of how much there is to be grateful for, and how powerful it is to mark that gratitude.

Above, you can see my Joy Jar. How corny, eh?

But I don’t care. I love my Gratitude Boot, and it stands on the shelf I see when I open my eyes every morning.

It’s made in a beer glass which I stole from my daughter’s room – apparently her mates pinched it from a bar in Portugal. You could make one in any container that takes your fancy.

I love cutting up images and using them, in the way that some people love to draw or paint. Snipping and shaping and sorting and choosing puts me in the zone, and that’s a good place to be.

I hoard cards I’ve been sent, fragments of coloured paper, and other bits and pieces. When a gratitude moment comes upon me I cut bits out and write my gratitude message on the back, and drop them into the jar.

Every so often, I give it a shake to rearrange it. When I see it, I remember just how many things there are to be grateful for.

Looking for Light in a World that’s often Dark

Maybe it’s cheesy, or trite. Or maybe that’s my self-judgement gremlin at work. All I know is,  when life takes a bleak turn, if I’ve had sad or bad news, or an overdose of harrowing stories via internet or TV bulletins and am left anxious, helpless or even despairing of the darkness of the world, I can turn to my little collection of joyful moments and find a spark of hope.

 

Just dipping in, and pulling out a few is enough. Now and then I even tip the whole lot out and read them. Where is gratitude to be found?

The memories fill me with warmth and pleasure all over again. I can travel back through time just by reading them: ‘ping pong with Clara’…’gorgeous spring sunshine’…’a day with Louise’…’looking forward to meeting J for dinner tonight’…’Sangha’…’Blogging Excitement!’…’photos sent by G’…’talking at the table with N until late’…’builder fixed the broken door’…’at least I didn’t break my right hand’…’Laughing with BB cos she overheard someone describe her as a lively-minded old bird’…’snow’…’beach walk’…’a warm cheese scone eaten outdoors’.

Tiny pleasures, and significant. They signal the joys of connecting with others, of love, of nature, of engagement with life. Good things to remember.

These are the fabric of which life is made. It’s good to see how many gratitude moments arise in any day, and it’s fun and rewarding to keep them in my jar of joy.

How do you remember moments that you’re grateful for? Please share your thoughts below.

Embracing the Unexpected at 60+

In the spirit of Finding New Creativity Over 60, I signed up for a workshop on Concrete Poetry run by the Creative Working Lives group.

A what? If you who know about Dada and the Surrealists you’ll be nodding wisely at this point, but I didn’t have a clue.

But nothing ventured…and it was interesting – spending a day at a long table with a dozen or so others, rearranging random words, making masks, snipping, sticking, writing and generally messing around.

I learned something about poetry, art, surrealism and the glee to be had from in unleashing my inner 5-year old. I also revisited a long-lost wail of ‘I can’t do this….’, and then found that maybe I just about can.

But what I learned most, was the extraordinary power of the unexpected.

Embrace the Unexpected

Because strangely, the gift of the day was not the chance to play, or the feeling of community in the room.

No, it was none of that. It came instead in a conversation with someone else on the course, that sprang up like a Spring storm and died away again just as quickly.

Maybe it was the art that opened the door, or the air of risk-taking and experimentation.

Maybe it was the influence of the letter I wrote from my 80-year-old self, who wants me to be more open.

Whatever the spark, this person simply sat down beside me as I worked and began quietly to talk about a recent and very painful experience in his life, a near-loss which had affected him profoundly.

It felt natural for me to carry on with my cutting and sticking, and let our talk flow effortlessly and honestly into discussing losses in both our lives.

How there are things that can’t be spoken of – until suddenly they can.

How very long it sometimes takes to even begin the drawn-out process of grieving.

How sorrow can resurface years later and feel just as scalding as it did early on, and then drop away again, leaving a sense of release and relief.

The Unexpected Happens in the Moment

His ease in launching into that conversation was the most unexpected and memorable part of a day that was filled with the unexpected and memorable.

And made me aware, not at the time, but now, that perhaps one hidden purpose of this blog is to find a sideways route into writing about grief in a way that heals.

Our talk ended as suddenly as it had begun with the call ‘5 minutes until we’re done!’, and with no acknowledgement of what had been said we both turned to focus on finishing off our pieces of work.

Creativity opens channels. If there’s any message here, it’s to remember that, and explore it.

What have you learned unexpectedly, through trying something new? Please leave your thoughts and comments below.

Write a Letter from Your Older Self

Dear Younger Me…with love from Older Me

Do you ever spend time with your older Self?

Virginia Woolf referred to her older self as ‘Old V’ in her diaries, and this week I’ve brought my own ‘Old E’ to life, in the interesting exercise of writing myself a letter, from me – at 80.

Taking a bit of time to get inside the head of the future you is very different from merely thinking about getting older.

For me the age of 80, though scarcely imminent, isn’t so far in the dim and distant that it’s completely unimaginable. Imagining it is scary, but it’s fruitful too. Will I even get there? Only one of my parents made it into the ninth decade, and that by a hairsbreadth.

Today, I’ll assume that nature will be kind, and fast forward into my older body and mind.

Imagine Yourself at 80

Try it. Sit for a moment, and look at the backs of your hands. How will they look different when you’re 80? Who will you be, years hence? What will be important? And what wisdom does Old You have to share with your younger self?

Le the thoughts settle, then start writing.

Older E turns out to be a force to reckon with. She kicks off: ‘…I’m not “Old E”…I don’t feel old. I’m still not entirely grown up.’

She challenges me to be bold:  ‘…don’t wind down, it’s too soon. You know those richly creative dreams that swirl around in your head…do me a favour, dear younger me, and give up playing safe!’

Let Go of Your Censor

When you write your letter from older you, aim for free flow. Write as you’d speak. Your older self will be a lot  like the current you in the way they speak and think, so don’t use a voice that doesn’t ring true.

Let your inner thoughts come to the fore. Older E knows I’m afraid of looking stupid – she says:

Write stuff. Never mind what people think. People don’t really care that much about what you do, so get over it!

And she offers me reasons not to be scared: …Lead a rich life – think BIG – give me some lovely excitement and adventure to look back on.

She knows what’s good for me, and admonishes me to keep going: …the meditation, it’s so good for you, for me, for us. Learn to know yourself as well as you can, then maybe I won’t need to make quite so much effort at breaking our painful old patterns of anger and defensiveness because you’ll have done the work for me. 

Write to Yourself with Compassion

Don’t use your letter as a chance to berate yourself for any shortcomings. Imagine that you’re writing with love and compassion, to help someone you care for deeply. …what I’m saying here dearest is not here’s a huge to do list, but be kind to yourself and just do your best

You can use your letter to give valuable reminders. Old E insists: Eat wisely and never get above a size 12 – I do NOT want to be matronly.

She advises me to …go easy on the gin, stop being a wuss and get on the bike, go swimming, dance round the kitchen. Have lots of laughs, have fun! It’s up to you whether I’m fit and supple or creaky and cantankerous. 

You’re In This Together

Your Older and Younger selves are one and the same, and what younger you does now can have a profound effect on older you’s experience of ageing. Not that Old E likes that ‘ageing’ label. She says:

Keep your zest for life, stay young at heart and never refer to yourself as an old lady – that’s a label reserved for centenarians.

There’s a surprising amount to learn from spending some time with the Future You. Give it a try, and please leave a comment below and tell us what you’ve discovered.

 

How to Spend More Time in the Present Moment at 60+

You’d expect it to be easy to spend time in the present moment. After all, it’s right here, so why not make up your mind to ‘be’ in it?

Today, as I walked along, I remembered that I wanted to practice being more be present.

‘Gorgeous magnolia,’ I remarked to myself,

‘…and,’ added my mind almost instantly, ‘…how awful it would be if you were knocked off your bike and killed, that would be the last magnolia you ever saw. Imagine how upset people would be at your funeral…’

And we were off, within a micro second, caught up catastrophic thinking and, rather than being here and now with the magnolia, propelled vividly into some future time that is never likely to happen, particularly as I don’t ride a bike….

The mind finds it virtually impossible to stay in the present moment for more than a few fleeting seconds. Its relentless desire is to launch into a re-run of some tale from the past, or else to amuse itself by itself by cooking up horror stories of tragedies, upsets and disappointments that might unfold in the future – but almost certainly won’t.

Why the mind has evolved in this way heaven knows, but it can no more stop thinking than the lungs can stop breathing, and it is constantly casting around for something to chew on.

Learn to Be Present More Easily

Cultivating an awareness of the mind’s antics is a great skill to have, and one that you can learn. Without that awareness, you can be oblivious to your entire experience if you’re walking around lost in thought. There are times when you just wouldn’t know that mind and body are connected.

A nice little trick to bring that awareness back is to have a run-through of the senses, noticing:

5 things you can see
4 things you can hear
3 things you can feel
2 things you can smell
1 thing you can taste

Try it now. You may be amazed to discover that you have hands! And feet! And they’re doing something which you can feel. What’s more you’ve got eyes that are filled with images, and ears that are attuned to the most subtle of sounds.

Find The Thing That Takes You Out of Yourself

But even if you set out with the best intentions to be here now, it’s an effort to train the mind to play along. So what else can we do, to spend more time experiencing the joy of the present moment?

The 80-year-old artist David Hockney shares his wisdom in a little video I saw recently. He says:

‘When you’re painting, it’s Now. I like to live in the Now. That’s all there is – Now – isn’t there?’

Hockney’s nailed it. When we’re totally absorbed we don’t notice time passing, we’re lost in the present moment.

What’s the activity that takes you out of yourself? Is it painting, like Hockers? For me it’s writing for pleasure (not for duty), and making music.

For you –  it might be gardening, baking, sewing, running? Please leave a comment, and share the activity that roots you in the present moment.