Maurice is someone who I recently met and immediately was intrigued by his demeanor and outlook. My wife and I recently spent a few hours with him and his partner and had a wonderful afternoon. I was aware of his skills as an artist but had not understood that he had just picked it later in life. These are couple of his paintings. His website is stunning.
One of the most difficult concepts to operationalize in healing from chronic pain is that you cannot fix it. Your attention is on the problem, not the solution. Since your brain is constantly changing structure, you’re reinforcing the pain circuits. Solving chronic pain requires that you move towards your vision and actively pursue it. Paradoxically, your pain will be left behind and you can create whatever life you would like.
Somehow, we have big dreams when we are young without resources to attain them, and then when we are older and may have the means to pursue these visions, we don’t. We get stuck in life and all of its trauma. People often dream of retirement and then don’t what to do with themselves. He has an unusual and inspiring approach.
Maurice L. Monette holds a doctorate in Adult Education from Columbia University. He directed and taught in graduate programs for adult learners at Loyola and John F. Kennedy universities. Monette is now an artist and writer and lives in Oakland, California.
Maurice L. Monette
At 68, I asked myself, “Why not play 20?”
The idea to “play 20” hit me when I was trying to learn something new and felt particularly frustrated. I reflected on the fact that many 20-year-olds become able to identify themselves as professionals of some sort by the time they reach 25. Julia is suddenly an engineer. David has become a nurse. So, with all my experience at 68, why can’t I make myself the artist or writer I’ve actually dreamed of being? Why can’t I begin to identify myself as an artist or writer and become a respectable one within five years?
Why? Because I’m too old. I can’t learn new tricks. I am a senior. My mind isn’t what it used to be. I have pain. I’m not feeling well enough. I shouldn’t need to learn more. I already have it all together. Besides, why risk looking like a fool? I just can’t do it!
Those objections aside, the inspiration to “play 20” moved me to try creative writing. I joined a writing group led by a writing coach and I began writing stories. After composing about 100 one or two-page stories in a year’s time, I realized I had the makings of a personal memoir. A year later, I published 80 of those stories as a book. Within two years I had become the creative writer I had dreamed of being. People I didn’t know would meet me on the street and say “you’re the writer, aren’t you?” At first, I hesitated, being accustomed to identifying myself as the leadership coach and university professor that I had been for most of my life. But yes! I write every day – that makes me a writer!
Painting interested me too. A local artist taught me the basics of painting with acrylics. That made me aware that to paint well I needed to learn the basics of drawing. I taught myself with drawing lessons on the Internet. Within a year, people were admiring (and even buying) my art. I had become an artist!
For me, to “play 20” is about courageously taking on new learning despite the usual deprecating self-talk that paralyzes me as an older adult. “Play 20” is about taking on the beginner’s mind and practicing the behavior of an ambitious 20-year-old learner:
- Pursue new interests and curiosities
- Recognize my ignorance and naivety and accept it as an opportunity to learn
- Connect with teachers and other learners
- Utilize the internet for classes and other resources
- Recognize the need for feedback and seek it non-defensively
- Maintain a can-do attitude.
Practicing these behaviors as an elder was not easy for me, but being an elder had many advantages. For instance, I was drawing not because I had to, but because I was inspired to create beautiful art. I completed lessons on the Internet without having to pass a test or worry about a grade. I didn’t even have to be ashamed, because I easily accepted that I had never drawn and knew nothing about drawing. I simply had to accept my ignorance and open myself to an exciting venture. I didn’t have to prove myself like I did when I was 20. Except once when a prospective art instructor asked to see my drawing samples. At that moment, I did have to demonstrate my talent to him. But not to worry. I was a volunteer learner and I knew I could find another instructor if need be. My only concern was to find the right instructor for the particular next steps I needed to take. I wasn’t studying for a degree or under pressure to get my next job. I just wanted to become an artist with skill.
Tempering ego and assuming the beginner’s mind continue to benefit me in many ways. Perhaps the Spanish word that is sometimes used for “retirement” says it all: jubilación, “jubilation” in English. I am jubilado not only because I am retired but also because I can take joy in new learning that brings me new skills, insight, beauty, growth, new relationships, and new identities.
So, why should becoming a writer or artist (or whatever I want to become) be any more impossible now than at 20? Why not “Play 20”?
* Adapted text excerpted from Play 20: A Collection of Essays and Drawings by Maurice L. Monette posted on his memoir blog, justplay20.com. Each of the 20 essays in the Play 20 collection describes a joy or challenge of his own Play 20 journey, provides samples of his art, and includes lessons he learned about learning as an older adult. With Play 20, Monette offers to one of the most vulnerable populations impacted by COVID-19, the home-bound, and seniors in our community, a way to look ahead, to learn, to recreate, and to Play 20.