SOON I shall no longer be 60.
Yet another birthday looms and with it the ambivalence of old age. I am not one of those who goes around havering that 60 is the new 50 or, in the case of the seriously deluded, the new forty. I have no desire to bungie jump or harness my brittle bones to the wings of a plane.
The most dangerous thing I have done recently was climb an apple tree and harvest a few cookers before they became windfall. If I live by any philosophy it is that which rejoices in being risk averse. Hence my avoidance of shellfish and motorbikes.
We are all, of course, ageing. But when you're young you can't age fast enough, so desperate are you to become an adult. I couldn't wait to be eighteen, at which point in the previous millennium you could legitimately drink intoxicating liquor in licensed premises habituated by gnarled misanthropes with whisky noses. These days, however, I'd rather time sped backwards or, at worst, stood still. I don't want to grow any older but there appears to be little I can do about it.
But it's how we age that is all the rage. This is the raison d'etre of a festival called Luminate that has been running across the country throughout October. Its credo, its website asserts, is that "creativity has no age."
Its organisers want older people especially to engage with art, either as participators or consumers. Among Luminate's events is an exhibition in Lochgelly of portraits by Joyce Gunn Cairns of people she reckons are creatively ageing, one of whom, would you believe, is me.
Oddly, when I sat for Joyce, an effervescent sixtysomething with a shock of white hair and cherry-coloured lips at her studio in Stockbridge, Edinburgh, we talked about everything but ageing.
Though she has been awarded an MBE and her work has been widely shown, she is an effortless and incorrigible outsider, living in an insalubrious part of the capital familiar to readers of Trainspotting.
She earns little from her work and prefers charity shops to those dependent on sweat shops for the cheapness of their wares. She reads avidly and is always eager for recommendations. Moreover, her accent has remained true to her working-class roots. When not sleeping she is at her easel, seven days a week, testing her talent to the limit.
It is a struggle but Joyce knows no other way to exist. In that sense she is the epitome of her own exhibition. Age has taught her that she needs to engage with her sitters before she can hope to make a satisfactory drawing of them. No one is a harsher critic of her work than she.
Time is too precious for soft-soaping. If something is rubbish she says so and consigns it to the recycling. Time is too precious, too, to be frittered away on meretricious projects. For the truly creative it is necessary to be honest. Energy must be conserved, effort well spent. Samuel Beckett's dictum - "Try again. Fail again. Fail better" - is one that only the relatively young can afford to heed.
It helps to have role models. When I was a boy all the old people - teachers, ministers, great aunts and uncles, grandparents - appeared ancient. How wrong I was. Some of them would live for 30 or 40 more years, ageing surely but imperceptibly, like venerable oaks. I now have several friends in their late eighties and early nineties who are more active socially and culturally than I can ever hope to be.
They make a mockery of the stereotype beloved of those who see care homes and dementia as the fate awaiting us all. Infirmity does not dishearten them; instead it makes them impatient, frustrated by their temporary immobility. They've no desire to switch off. They go to private viewings, attend concerts, write books, traipse abroad. If they were still able to campaign door to door they would.
I doubt that any of them would describe what they do as creative ageing. Rather it is descriptive of the way they have always been.
If you can't paint any more, go and look at paintings; if your writing has dried up, read. The one may not be as creative as the other but it has its own rewards. Or so we "senior citizens" must believe.
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