We are huddled on the floor, concentrating on our assignment. Each of us has shared an important saying or proverb that impacted our lives and now we are turning those six sayings into a song. We have a daunting five minutes to accomplish this creative task. However, we also have songwriter and musician Vanessa Torres from Lifesongs to guide us. After we've shared our sayings, Vanessa instantly comes up with a theme--These Are Things That I've Learned. Our song centers around that chorus, with each of us weaving in our personal sayings.
In the other three corners of the room, groups are collaborating, turning their sayings into spoken word, dramatic movement, and theatrical improv. Our facilitator, Susan Pearlstein, Founder Emeritus for the National Center for Creative Aging in Washington, DC, and the Founder of Elders Share the Arts in New York City, calls us back to the circle and each group performs their piece. In mere minutes, we have learned something important about each person, we have created an artistic work with people we're just getting to know, and we have appreciated the power of creating something together.
This was an exhilarating beginning to the third annual NCCA conference on creative aging.
These are things I that learned at the conference:
Every person is inherently creative. Of course, I knew this. But it is so lovely to be reminded in so many ways. It is so lovely to be invited more deeply into your own creativity through song, dance, theater games, art, movement, and brainstorming. It's inspiring to be in a room where so many are expressively at ease with their creative spirits.
Here are some insights from conference luminaries. Some are not attributed because I was so raptly listening I didn’t write everything down!
“Creativity is a moment when we look at the ordinary, but see the extraordinary.”
“Art is for everyone. It's not a frivolous add-on. It's a vital part of life. Everyone is creative. Dream and dispel the myth that ‘I can't do art.’ Aging has been treated like it’s all gray but it's really expansive colors.” Remarks of Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, Sept 25th, 2016. Click here to enjoy a video of the Chairman
“Feeling useful is a human right.”
“Fifty percent of our elders feel lonely.” Vice Mayor Karsten Klein, The Hague
"By listening closely to one another, we can help illuminate the true character of this nation, reminding us all just how precious each day can be and how great it is to be alive." Dave Isay, founder of StoryCorps, via Eddie Gonzalez
“Bringing what is inside to the outside; it is important to do this as we age.” Mary Luehrsen, National Association of Music Merchants
“Creativity is the connective tissue that we use to build community across diverse differences.” Anne Basting, TimeSlips, ™ Recipient of a 2016 MacArthur Genius Grant
“Instructors need people living with dementia as co-teachers to transform educational goals. “ Dr. Elizabeth Lokon, Opening Minds Through Art
John Killick (right), poet, author and innovator in creativity and dementia, heard this wisdom one day while visiting a memory care community:
“Words of comfort are free, but very necessary.”
“I love it when you hold out your hand and water pours from it.”
“If you don't ask for the moon, you don't even get a piece of cheese.”
“You have to introduce yourself or else it all goes brittle.”
“Life is the slackness, the film and the veil.”
“Every time I look for home, I find you.”
John says, “This tells me that people with dementia are really creative and all we have to do is listen and be enriched.
This is just a soupçon of things that I learned. I wish I could have talked to every person at the conference. I wish I could have listened full on to their stories, to their sayings and proverbs, to the things that they knew and the things they had learned. Which is one reason I hope to return to the conference next year.
Deborah Shouse is the author of Connecting in the Land of Dementia: Creative Activities to Explore Together and Love in the Land of Dementia: Finding Hope in the Caregiver’s Journey.