It has been a long voyage
Through time, travail and triumph,
Eighty years
Of learning what to be and how to become it.
~ May Sarton


Profile of May Sarton
Contests for Creativity and Aging
Writing and Personal Development
Books I’m Reading
Book Review: Something to Live For


MAY SARTON (1912-1995) excelled as lifelong poet, novelist, and autobiographer. She contributed much to our understanding of later life through the journals of her later years (some of which were dictated after the stroke in her late 70’s). After the Stroke covers a year recuperating after a mild stroke, Endgame addresses her refusal to lose independence despite health issues in her 79th year, Encore celebrates life in her 80th year, and At Eighty-Two is a posthumous record of her last journal, still exhibiting intense love of living. In her last book of poetry, Coming into Eighty, Sarton wrestles with questions of life and death, as well as the difficulties and rewards of living alone — along with such daily events as writing a letter, caring for her cat, and appreciating her flowers.

Sarton Reflections on Writing

It always comes down to the same necessity;
go deep enough and there is a bedrock of truth, however hard.

For any writer who wants to keep a journal, be alive to everything,
not just to what you’re feeling,but also to your pets, to flowers, to what you’re reading.

Sarton Reflections on her own Aging

I began this journal ten months ago
as a way of getting back to my self,
of pulling out of last year’s depression,
and now I am truly on a rising curve.

I am no longer the very old woman with a very old dog
I was all spring and summer.

Here I am, writing poems in my seventy-ninth and eightieth years,
and the reason is partly because I am a foreigner in the land of old age
and have tried to learn its language.

I live with essences, with what is innermost these days
because what is outermost is often beyond my strength.

I can pay that absolute attention Simone Weil has called “prayer”
to a bird at the feeder outside my window
or a bunch of anemones opening to show purple hearts.

I have more time for being and less ability to do than ever before.

Sarton Poems on Aging

Now I Become Myself

Gestalt at 60

August 3

Sarton Novels on Aging

As We Are Now (1973) – Caro Spencer is abandoned in a bleak nursing home by family even though she has a temporary illness. She copes by keeping a diary, through which the reader is led to reflect on end-of-life issues.

A Reckoning (1978) – Laura Spelman, learning that she will not get well, views this last illness as a journey during which she must reckon up her life, give up the non-essential, and concentrate on what she calls “the real connections.”

CONTESTS: Writing, Creativity & Aging

Calling all 2011 Beautiful Minds through May 13!

National Center for Creative Aging (NCCA) is seeking people 55+ to be featured in a national photo essay exhibit showcasing women and men who are doing beautiful things with their minds without letting age be a barrier. The photo essay exhibit will travel to multiple cities as part of this educational campaign to inspire others to follow suit in maintaining their brain health.   To learn more  >>
For one profile from Beautiful Minds 2010

5th Annual Rachel Carson Intergenerational Sense of Wonder Contest

Submissions are due June 10

The Environmental Protection Agency has teamed up with the Liz Lerman Dance Exchange, Generations United, the Rachel Carson Council, Inc. and NCCA to offer the fifth installment of this annual intergenerational contest. Intergenerational teams of two or more must produce a poem, essay, photo or dance that shows a sense of wonder about nature. The finalists will be determined by an expert panel before the public selects the winner in each medium.

COMMENTARY – Writing and Personal Development

The late Gene Cohen wrote a valuable chapter on Creativity and Aging in his 2006 book
The Mature Mind: The Positive Power of the Aging Brain
. The value of writing in later life can be
productively contemplated in the light of Cohen’s list of inner drives toward personal growth emerging in retirement:

get to know oneself and be comfortable with oneself
learn to live well
have good judgment

feel whole
live life to the fullest right to the end
give to others, one’s family, and community
tell one’s story

continue the process of discovery and change

remain hopeful despite adversity.


Being True To Life: Poetic Paths To Personal Growth.
David Richo               Boston, MA: Shambhala, 2009.

This engaging volume invites the reader to encounter the mystery of life through reading and writing poetry. In this invitation, author David Richo draws heavily on his background in Zen Buddhism, Christianity and Jungian analysis.


How God Changes Your Brain: Breakthrough Findings from a Leading Neuroscientist
Andrew Newberg & Mark Robert Waldman         New York: Ballantine Books, 2010

This up-to-date, readable book about the impact of spiritual practices on the brain has excellent sections on compassionate communication and on exercising your brain. Their intriguing list of eight ways to enhance physical, mental, and spiritual health includes: faith, dialogue with others, aerobic exercise, meditation, yawning, conscious relaxation, staying intellectually active, and smiling.

BOOK REVIEW by Marianne Vespry

Richard J. Leider & David A. Shapiro                   San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler, 2008

The second half of life is a territory with no maps. In our early to middle years we tend to have easily defined (if not always easily reached) goals: education, getting a job, finding a mate and having children, advancing in a career, establishing a place in the community. In the second half of life (assuming we are not still engaged in a subsistence struggle) the goals are more nebulous. We are more likely to ask ourselves what it is all about, why we are here, and how we should live so that our lives are meaningful to ourselves and those around us.

The authors state that their intent is “to help provide insight into eternal questions we all face at times in our lives, but never more provocatively than in the second half.”

“We explore these questions in three main parts.

In Part 1: Savoring the World, you are invited to return to a time and place where our connections to the natural world and its patterns of time and space are revealed more clearly to us and where we are better able to clarify for ourselves what really matters in our lives.

In Part 2: Saving the World, we take on our generosity to fellow travelers and what it means to shape a life that makes a positive difference to the lives of others. Drawing upon the ways and practices of both traditional and contemporary societies, we seek to bring forth the time-honored lessons of tribes and elders who have sustained themselves for centuries.

In Part 3: Finding Your Way, we examine what it really means and takes to be truly fulfilled in the second half of our lives. We offer up practices that can help us live a life of purpose and meaning – saving the world – while simultaneously infusing our experiences with vitality and joy – savoring it.”

This is a book to help us to explore a few of the many pathways to vital aging. Though our bodies may be slowing down, our minds and souls can still expand. Wisdom and generosity can heal old hurts, let old burdens of care for possessions and status fall away. So freed, we can move wholeheartedly and authentically into the second half of life.

Until next time,