A long life feeds the imagination, giving endless material for reflection and (especially) making surprising comparisons.
Comparisons are at the very heart of any poet’s craft. Similes. Metaphors. Aphorisms. Parables. Surprising juxtaposition of words or ideas. Changing rhythms or tunes to express a changing mood. These all require an awareness of similarities and differences. Which is an essentially human faculty.
Whatever your field, whether it be “creative” or matter-of-fact, I’m sure if you look closely you will find you are constantly making comparisons, seeing similarities and differences.
Graphs. Performance assessments. Annual reports. Pricing. Cleaning. Cooking. Where’s Wally? All these activities involve our ability to make comparisons.
The Muppets come to mind: One of these things is not like the other…
So, in my 80s, almost every minute, one thing reminds me of another. One tree in Aotearoa with an odd arrangement of air roots reminds me of trees in Kyoto in the snow. Roots winding themselves around a tree trunk remind me of the Japanese practice of komomaki. That involves wrapping tree trunks with a straw belt to prevent harmful insects damaging trees in winter.
From such a simple flash of recognition might come a poem… a drawing… an email to a friend from my travels… or simply a moment of wonder. Because it’s all rather thrilling, this human ability to see things in different contexts, don’t you think?
If you fear old age and dread growing older, bear this in mind: a long life feeds the imagination with rich material. The creative life can flourish in maturity, if we only let it.
The photo of tree trunks with their straw belts is by Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble. They write:
There was a bilingual (Japanese and English) sign explaining these straw mats, which are insect traps. The mats are attached at the end of October, around the time of the first frost, and capture harmful insects as the go to ground. The upper tie is loose, the lower tie tight, so the insects get in but cannot get through. The insects remain in the mat through the winter – it seems to mimic the insulation of the ground – but come early February the mats are removed and burned.Paul Asman and Jill Lenoble, Wikimedia