By Joyce Wayne
In 2001, I was a single mother, working long hours, running a household and doing it without any financial support from my former partner. I’d sleep-walked through a string of unsatisfactory days that left me feeling gloomy about the future. It wasn’t my best moment. But luckily, as I was leaving work one day, I picked up a brochure (there were still printed brochures in those days) announcing a summer program called Toronto Classical Pursuits. Every morning during a week in July, Classical Pursuits offered culture lovers a place to meet at the University of Toronto. Participants were invited to discuss ideas, books and art.
I chose to enroll in a seminar about George Eliot’s Middlemarch. This novel has shaped my thinking ever since, as did the seminar leader and the fascinating collection of participants from the U.S. and Canada, each with their own sense of what this 19th-century novel meant to them. We bunked at a UofT residence for the week, and I found myself taking long, solitary walks after dinner, exploring downtown neighbourhoods surrounding the university, places I’d frequented as a student.
Classical Pursuits changed the trajectory of my life. I was middle-aged, feeling as if I were divorced from the pursuits that truly mattered to me. Since high school, I’d wanted to be a writer, to compose novels, but in 2001 that goal seemed unreachable until I attended Classical Pursuits. The seminar took me out of my day-to-day life, giving me the energy and courage to pursue a life-long goal I’ve stuck close to ever since.
Now that I’m older, I regard my attendance at Classical Pursuits as part of what aging consultant Sue Lanz calls “Collaborative Aging.” Lanz has written a helpful path to aging, Options Open: The Guide for Mapping Your Best Aging Journey, an activity she describes as similar to making travel plans. “The earlier you start the navigational process, the better,” she remarked at a recent presentation.
How to age successfully
Lanz also asks: “What does successful aging mean? Ninety-seven percent of Canadian baby boomers want to age in place, to remain part of their community, yet at the same time, boomers aren’t clear about the different services available to them. Now is the time to find out.”
Lanz suggests we look at our future holistically and that each of us establishes an individual vision for aging. As a prominent Toronto-based speaker about aging, Lanz has observed what happens to people when their choices are taken away, when there are no long-term plans in place or when they are in a crisis, forced into making decisions under pressure. Although many of us focus entirely on finances, housing, health, and resources also play an enormous role in ensuring we age confidently and with success. Lanz includes priorities such as living near reliable healthcare resources, transit and retrofitting our homes to our future needs. Set aside funds for homecare, and instigate an effort to collect a team of professionals who can help you age successfully rather than relying entirely on family. Stay connected to neighbours by contributing to your community. Make plans for how to come home after hospitalization. All are among the stepping stones to successful aging that Lanz offers.
Five-point framework for successful aging
The idea is to create scenarios for smooth transitions rather than radical changes made during a crisis. Lanz offers a five-point strategic framework for aging that focuses on:
- Social Networks
- Circles of support or caregiving teams
- Resources such as technology, government services and financial stability
Like most stages of life, successful aging is about relationships: the relationship with ourselves and how we collaborate with others, including professionals and advisors.
For more information about collaborative aging, go to www.collaborativeaging.com
At http://optionsopen.org you can delve into Lanz’s work and order her comprehensive Options Open Guide, the guide for mapping your best aging journey.
Final thoughts on successful and meaningful aging
Listening to Sue’s presentation took me back to my early experience with Classical Pursuits. I stepped out of my daily routine to meet with people of similar ages and interests. More than two decades later, I’m still connected with Toronto Classical Pursuits, and in recent years I’ve given talks and led seminars online and in person about writers as different as Alice Munro and Boris Pasternak. This summer, I’ll be talking about Russia with all its contradictions, violence and tragedies. Acquaintances made during various summer weeks at Classical Pursuits have become close friends.
Most importantly, Classical Pursuits helped me to devise a travel map for aging. I decided that writing was my true calling and that I’d put my whole myself behind the dream to publish fiction and non-fiction. Today that dream is a reality.
As I grow older, I continue on that creative journey, one of great meaning to me. Writing helps to give my life purpose. Retiring from teaching was not so much about an ending as a beginning. By joining the unretired, an older group of adults who find new meaning in the work and experiences of being older, I found my map to aging.