Eighty is the New Fifty!

Writing as a Longevity Pill.

Ok. so now you are eighty, in the land of diminishing returns. So many friends have taken leave by the wayside and, like part of an expedition into the unknown, beset by danger, you belong to a small cohort, braving the hostile terrain ahead.

To live a long and healthy life one is supposed to have one’s existence shored up by five essential pillars: diet, exercise, sociability, mental challenge and purpose. But even then there is a creeping assumption that once you’ve hit the three score years and ten mark, life becomes a roulette game with a horribly grinning Fate turning the wheel. But, whatever age we have reached, most of us are desperate for a bit more life unless illness, trauma or extreme fatigue has taken us by the throat so that we have felt forced to whisper, “OK – I give in – take me.” Assuming one does not want to be taken, how does one cross the dwindling tundra of the end game?

At eighty, I studiously attend to all the five pillars but the latter two – mental challenge and Purpose are handily conflated into one; Creativity. I write and therefore I am. And shall probably be so until the dot dot dot of my final sentence of my final paragraph.

I took a quick search of writers who were still in commission after their eightieth birthday and there are a few notable examples. One – Lorna Page – wrote a bestselling thriller Dangerous Weakness in her nineties and used the money to buy a big house, whereupon she invited people in from care homes to indulge in the Creative Purpose, thrusting acquiescence to the Grim Reaper behind them. 

However, when I didn’t include the number eighty in the search, Google was packed full of lists of  ‘ageing’ writers, where the definition of ageing seemed to be fifty years! This sums up the communally held view that you’re getting towards the end of your productive life once you’ve reached late middle age. Publishers love young photogenic blood and seek out the latest literary stars with their twisty words and tricky plots – biting hugnrily into their soft, vulnerable necks to feed the blood sucking needs of the fiction industry. 

There is also that cliche: most novelists have only one book in them. The notion that you might be someone like Edgar Wallace and knock out a book a week, belongs to a parallel universe of pure fantasy.

Still, the fact of the matter is that writing requires daily exercise to keep the creative muscle taut and strong. Fear not that psychological blocks will prevent the wannabe author in you from putting meaningful words on the page. Just write. Anything. A diary. A blog to yourself, a stream of unrefined consciousness.  The very act (these days called journaling) of doing so is both therapeutic and practical. It is a clearing of the stream of consciousness each day of the weeds of historical baggage to allow it to flow readily when you call upon it for a focused creative endeavour. There is an adage I have used extensively elsewhere that you write yourself into knowledge.

I had a full and relatively productive academic life, ending up as a Professor and Director of a University Research Centre. Writing was my living, of course. Articles, reports and books were part and parcel of the job. But, at the same time, I spent spare hours – usually on trains, planes and in hotels – writing novels, plays and poetry.

Today, all time is mine to have and to hold. The latest product of this disciplined daily routine is my book of short stories, just published, called The Fortune Trader of Samarkand and other Tales Through Time. A temporary valediction upon reaching my eightieth year. The collection comes from a year and a half of podcasts of the short stories I buckled down to write every week. At the same time I am gradually bringing, blinking into the light, hibernating fiction that I have written across the decades, dressing it up in new clothes for public view.

During a long life, different interests and challenges develop. I have often said that despite thinking the door is shut, along comes Fate and opens it with a beckoning finger. Thus I have written novels about social behaviour, detective fiction, philosophical fantasy and science fiction. I have published a book of aphorisms on Zen Management and have another ready to roll, shedding light on social conditioning and personal freedom. And I have written plays and poetry. The marker of these outputs across time is not that they have been accorded the reward of a critic’s praise but that they have opened up channels to personal understanding. This is the primary goal. You are your first reader. Later, you can seek out the approbation of the masses.

One must reframe fear of the blank page. It does not represent the tyranny of the unknown but the seductive promise of the soon-to-be discovered. Whatever each of us does with that page, it will be unique. No two people have the same creative fingerprint. And as we exercise our imaginations, the quality of our verse or prose may improve until we  speak with unique voices.

Then, along with the increasing quality in our artistic expression comes something else. The term for it is channelling. Like Carl Jung I believe we are all a living expression and facet of something termed the universal unconscious. We are born from it and die back into it. Being creative enables us to establish living channels to it. The universal unconscious is the repository of all of human experience: the past, present and the future. The act of writing (and of composing, painting, sculpting and all other realms of artistic expression) can be elevated to a point where the writer becomes a conduit to that unconscious realm, and draws from it lessons for us all to learn. This results in authors having a unique voice and having ‘something to say’. 

This is why I still write every day at 80. It makes me feel a part of the complex interplay between the daily reality of the failing body and the magical, mysterious vastness of Universal Unconscious. It’s my job. And I love it.

I hope I have been persuasive enough for you, particularly the older viewer, to try it. You will enter a garden of delights if you are prepared for the long haul. It has to become a way of life.

So – I finish with a bit of advertising. You can find my novels and collections on Amazon Books, usually through your country’s Amazon link. British readers go to Amazon.co.uk for example. My name is Jack Sanger. As I speak I have so far uploaded:

The Fortune Trader of Samarkand – a collection of cryptic tales across time, from 40 000 years in the past to 40,000 years in the future.

Hot Flushes – a comedy of pre-millenium manners where four husbands embark upon affairs to revive their marital relations. They think!

Edward “Teddyboy“ Silver Master of Chaos – a modern Marlowe thriller full of twists, turns, sex, drugs and rockn’ noll.

The Lone Shark and the Scent of Prey – a dystopian climate thriller with an imperious female assassin

And in the next week or so  I’ll add

The Mental Traveller – and – 

The Second Birth of Aniis Balanchine.

There will be more after that!

Please try them – and leave reviews!

Meanwhile, pull out a ream of paper and dip your quill in the ink ….


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