One of the key concepts discussed at the summit was social prescribing. Many people go to the doctor for reasons unrelated to physical health, and the goal of social prescribing is to enhance healthy life expectancy through creativity. A patient might leave the physician’s office with a prescription for singing, walking, painting, or writing. The combination of social connection and creativity is especially powerful to enhance life experience. Social prescribing has been practiced in the United Kingdom at an organization called Arts and Minds for almost fifteen years, and is gaining acceptance elsewhere. In the United States, I have taught writing classes for Secure Senior Connections, which is funded by medical insurance companies enhance the health of people over 65 through creativity and social engagement.
One of the key resources explored at the summit was the public library. Veronda J. Pitchford of the Califa Group (a nonprofit library consortium in California) stressed that creativity is a human right, and that libraries have an important role to play in creative aging. Libraries are connectors and conduits, and one of the most trusted and welcoming places in communities. Veronda said that program directors in libraries are often open to creative programming, whether it is a reading series for local authors or a creative writing program for olders. As a funding model, Veranda suggested working with:
Programming Librarians at the local level
Statewide continuing education coordinators
The library board, introducing programs as community resources
Challenges in funding creative programs for olders came up several times during the two day summit. In the United States, state level funding for olders tends to focus on health issues, while statewide funding for creative programs tends to target youth. This bifurcation reflects the social stereotypes about older adults, but not the reality. A participant at the summit, Ferrell Ramowden, shared research showing that those aged 65+ value creativity and cultural participation higher than many other activities that most people think would be critical, including access to healthcare and physical activity.
Yet opportunities to fund creative programs for olders do exist and are on the upswing. State agencies for the arts can be resources, and certain philanthropic organizations have a keen interest in this area (including E.A. Michelson Philanthropy and the Baring Foundation). One speaker from Senior Planet said he is constantly thinking about ways to bring in resources. He advocates becoming the dominant feature in whatever niche you occupy so that it is clear you have value to add.
The conference also featured inspiring video presentations of creative programs for older adults. One of the highlights was a video about The Restaurant of Mistaken Orders, a restaurant in Japan that employs workers with dementia. It’s very short and well worth watching. And check out this treasure trove of videos that help share the story of creative aging available through E.A. Michelson Philanthropy's website.
And here is a set of films about connecting through culture as we age.
The summit emphasized the need for intersectional and intercultural connections. The closing presentation was by Kunle Adewale, Founder and Executive Director of the Arts in Medicine Projects. Their work bringing digital creativity to older adults in rural Nigeria has been showcased in The Guardian and other publications. The program encourages older adults, many with dementia, to dance using virtual reality renderings of indigenous musicians, And with iPads as their canvases, older adults create multilayered self-portraits and other art. The project unlocks the freedom of expression without interrupting or micromanaging engagement—the very definition of creativity as play. The Arts in Medicine project honors people as experts in their own lived experience.
Later in June I learned about the “Flip the Script” exhibit hosted by the UK National Innovation Centre for Aging. The Centre had invited participants to choose a question to answer about aging, and then cast each participant’s hand in a position indicating how they felt about the question they chose from this menu:
Q1. Looking to the past, what has life taught you so far? We want you to share your words of wisdom.
Q2. When have you wanted to flip the script? We want to hear about a time when you challenged society’s expectations around age.
Q3. Looking ahead, what do YOU want for yourself and what do you think SOCIETY should do to ensure a longer, healthier and more joyful future?
Any of these questions would make great writing prompts!
Following the exhibit, the Centre for Aging is creating a digital tool to capture participants’ collective insights that will help create a new narrative about ageing. They call this #ageing intelligence.
This month I also listened in on a one-hour workshop presented by Debra Benfield. Debra is a registered dietician in her mid-sixties who focuses on the intersectionality of gendered ageism and body liberation. In her workshop, Debra emphasized the level of freedom older women in particular can regain by coming into right relationship with our bodies. We regain the freedom to pursue creative expression when we are fully embodied.
Debra emphasized that you are the expert on your body. She encouraged a focus on how your choices make you feel: what nourishment, movement, and mindfulness practices support your peace and joy. She encouraged participants to develop self-compassion as a practice to open space for curiosity.
Debra explored the concept of pro-aging, which invites us to return to the authentic self. Pro-aging invites us to excavate and dismantle our internal ageism, which developed because we have been exposed to the fairy tales about older women since we ourselves were children.
And then Debra opened up the topic of aging with body liberation: What would it be like for us as women who are in this powerful time in our lives to step away from the concept that we should be denied in any aspects of life? These include relationships (especially each woman’s relationship with herself), fashion, and how we advocate for ourselves in the healthcare system. She encouraged participants to find freedom in how we relate and care for our bodies through boundary setting, connection, and honoring our body’s wisdom.
Debra also leads an eight-week session with topics that include dismantling internalized ageism and dismantling internalized diet culture. All of this involves taking small steps in the direction of making caring choices about our bodies.
Last but not least, this month I’ve been playing with Google Bard (an experimental AI tool), and with its help I found more Creative Aging resources including the Brookdale Center for Healthy Aging in New York, and on the Creative Aging page of the National Assembly of State Art Agencies. Google Bard also gave me a nonexistent resource which I won’t trouble you with—just to say that AI can be a bit of a scoundrel. Or maybe it’s just getting a head start on creative aging.
Speaking of which, I hope that as we head into July, you’ll keep the pen moving (or the keys clicking). We keep building our culture, story by story.
All best wishes,
Vampires of a Certain Age is out with Beta readers now. If you would like an Advance Review Copy - to read and review on Goodreads and other media - please drop Stella a line.
The publication day is set - September 15th!
Vampires of a Certain Age
An immortal healer turned blood bank director falls for the one person who can destroy her.
Marion Chase is a healer in medieval Yorkshire. Accused of witchcraft, she is rescued by a vampire. Now immortal, Marion joins a Sisterhood in York dedicated to ethical feeding. Centuries later Marion finds her true calling as president of a Chicago blood bank. There she falls in love with the one person who can destroy her: Rachel Sutter, an FDA inspector who is the living likeness of Marion’s lover in ancient Yorkshire.
I publish two blog articles (published online on the 10th and the 20th) and this newsletter every month, so you hear from me (or a guest blogger) a few of times a month. Below is a brief extract from last month's blogs - click the links for the whole enchilada! If you've ever considered getting your voice out there, I welcome suggestions for topics, or a fully written guest piece in line with my philosophy for the site. Drop me a line......
It doesn’t take more than a few clicks to find publications aimed at women over 50 years of age. My first try brings me to “15 Over 50 Magazines & Publications.” The next article is from the Guardian informing me about the “rise of older female writers” and proclaiming that “things are definitely looking up,” presumably for those same women writers who have recently risen, like so many fresh rolls.
There’s “Better After 50” and “Finding Your Voice after 50” and even one publication mentioning their target audience is “limited demographics.” How polite!
But all of these are online resources and I work in real life. As a writing coach and book editor for more than two decades, most of my novel and memoir writing clients are female while men make up about 20 percent of such writers who contact me. And yes, most of my clients are over 50.
I do have amazing male clients, even in their eighties, and I have never once had a man apologize for “only” prioritizing their writing now. Not one time. I have only had male clients who are proud of their life accomplishments and convinced they have something to share with the world. From music therapists to rabbis to educators, these men take themselves off mute and dive right in. There is no reason why my older female clients shouldn’t do the same. I want to champion older female writers, heck I am an older female writer! All of our stories deserve to be shared and celebrated.
I have had it up to here with women who critique other women’s appearance—and that includes me. I was totally judgmental when I first saw the photos of Madonna from the 2023 Grammys. Her look provoked an uncanny valleyreaction: Madonna seemed to me like an android, like an attempt to make a human face from clay. And then I read what Madonna thought about reactions like mine: How she had been subjected over and over again to misogyny and ageism. I realized I had become part of that problem, even though I know better. I know damned well that when women find it necessary to change our bodies in order to meet social or career expectations, the issue is about the system, not the individual woman.
By the time Martha Stewart’sSports Illustrated cover came along, I knew to expect the attacks, many from other women: Martha at 81 must have had some “work” done to look that good; Martha is privileged; Martha was photoshopped. And of course, the old standby: Martha can’t possibly be a natural blonde at that age.
Step back a minute and think how many magazine covers feature younger women who have had plastic surgery; younger women of privilege; younger women who are photoshopped; younger women who dye their hair. Now ask yourself: Why is an older woman supposed to be purer than Caesar’s wife, while younger models get a pass?