We’ve all heard the phrase, “When one door closes, another opens.”
At 69, Larry Potts has had three satisfying – and disparate – careers. Only one – English teacher as Casa Grande High School – is over. He is still very much involved with the others – singer/songwriter and family therapist.
What he’s exploring now is a blending of the two – how creativity can ease the often tough transitions of later life.
Potts is a prime example, discovering the riches of writing music and singing when he was in his late 50s. “Twelve years ago,” he said, “I was desperately ill with a degenerative nerve disease. I thought, if I didn’t have any time left, what did I want to do? And what I’d always wanted was to write songs.”
Songwriting has been such a creative gift he’s offering that opportunity to others, specifically those in the second halves of their lives.
“I want to work with people who may be in transition,” he said. “Especially transitioning into retirement or another late-life event that’s presenting a challenge. My believe is that, through the difficulty of what that transition is, creativity of some sort – painting, music, crafts, singing, acting – can be the one thing that opens up new territory.”
Sometimes, he went on, change can be frightening and difficult. “My belief is when people start to do something creative – something they’ve always wanted to do – it can be healing, extremely rewarding and life-giving.”
As far as he’s concerned, singing and writing songs was a large part of his healing. “I believe it cured me.”
Potts said, “We all have within us this unrealized creativity that needs to be shared.” If someone is floundering, depressed or perhaps has given up, it’s necessary to search for some way to survive. “If you go to the deepest part in yourself, it’s something we all have, it’s a bottomless well that we can draw from if we see it.”
What happens when a major change occurs, something such as retirement, a new living situation, physical impairment, losing someone or someones important to us. Suddenly the life we’ve led for years is gone, or is radically different. Then what? How do we cope?
A major life transition, Potts explained, consists of a beginning, middle and end, but not in that order. The ending comes first, then the middle and, finally, the new beginning.
The first phase is a time of outwardly letting go while inwardly experiencing the loss of roles, relationships and identity. We’re left with the question, “Who am I now?”
The middle phase is the neutral zone. It is characterized by emptiness. The old reality is gone. We need time alone to reflect on the death of the old and consider our rebirth.
“This,” he said, “is where my work on creativity comes in. We begin to ask questions about inspiration and imagination, experimentation and play. We find teachers and mentors. It’s time to take stock and look for clues.”
It’s from this phase that the discovery of what comes next can occur – what we want to do, who we want to be, in our later life.
Earlier societies, Potts said, had rituals to handle transition, but now we have to do it individually and consciously. “We’re left to founder, or flounder, tread water on our own until we find something – if we do.”
Our society, he feels, “sees letting go as negative. Mostly people are averse to talking about loss – I think more for men than women. For guys, we come from a background where we don’t want to appear vulnerable. We can fix anything. But we can’t fix this one so we don’t want to talk about it. That works to our detriment.
But, he said, “creativity has a possible role for people to ease that transition, to make the ways in which we deal with the mystery of this life deeply fulfilling.”
And then there’s the final phase, talking about the new beginning. “It’s different for everyone,” he said. “It’s not like everyone fits the same model. It’s taking time, taking care of yourself in little ways, and finding somebody to talk with.”
Potts hopes his new program will include group and individual work. He’d like to see a cross-generational group. “There’s a richness there, working with young, middle and older ages, and a lot to be learned from each other.”
And, he said, “I’ve been on this journey myself. It’s not over. There’s so much to learn, it’s a challenge. It can be scary, but can be, ultimately, very rewarding.”
To learn more about late-life creativity, call Potts at 762-0852 or e-mail lkp707 @ aol.com.