Saturday, January 12, 2008

Two Books About Aging

Millner, Nancy Bost. (1997). Creative aging: Discovering the unexpected joys of later life through personality type. Mountain View, CA: Davies-Black Publishing.

Raines, Robert. (1997). A time to live: Seven steps of creative aging. New York: Plume (Penguin).

What I would like to find in a book about aging is a game plan for transcendence. These books repeat platitudes about aging being a time when we can come to self-acceptance, wisdom, and creativity. These things are true enough, but they do not provide me with the sense of magic and wonder of my youthful illusions that the future stretched out with endless possibility and promise. I miss that.

The first 60 pages of Millner’s book orient the reader to a Jungian perspectivpere on the elder years. Millner is a fluent writer who performs this task effectively. If you are not familiar with the 16 personality types, as categorized using the Myers-Briggs personality index, there are many good websites where you can gain fundamental understanding before buying the book. A pretty good free version of the MBTI may be found at the Humanmetrics website. The scoring isn’t particularly detailed and, therefore, it wasn’t spot-on for my type. If you are interested, you may want to find someone who is certified to administer and explain the type fully for you.

Chapters four through eight characterize five components of the elder experience as: vitality and contentment, generosity and spaciousness, connectedness and relatedness, joy and devotion, and reflecting on the great art of living.

Millner then suggests how some of the 16 personality types might inhabit that dimension of aging, using extended case-study examples. I am out of patience with popular psychology books that over-generalize on the basis of limited studies. It’s a shame that my training has been as a quantitative researcher, because it is getting harder as I age to persuade me that limited studies do as much as even I have claimed in my own work to promote the understanding that is a goal of qualitative research. Perhaps this is merely a testament to the wisdom of my own years.

I think this book would be more appealing to someone who is relatively new to personality type studies. The engaging writing, clear descriptions of type, and concise case examples will appeal to many readers.

Raines, on the other hand, writes with the deliberation of the memoirist, which in fact he is. I had been expecting a illumination of Jung’s seven tasks of aging, and this is not.

Jung’s 7 tasks of aging

Raines 7 steps of creative aging

1. Facing the reality of aging and dying

1. Waking up

2. Life review

2. Embracing sorrow

3. Defining life realistically

3. Savoring blessedness

4. Letting go of the ego

4. Re-imagining work

5. Finding new rooting in the Self

5. Nurturing intimacy

6. Determining the meaning of one’s life

6. Seeking forgiveness

7. Rebirth – dying with life

7. Taking on the mystery

A retired minister, Raines brings numerous personal experiences to his exploration of the blessings of aging, as well as examples from other people’s lives. The book is liberally sprinkled with quotations from great writers and thinkers. Raines is reflective and deeply human as he describes his illuminations. In the final analysis, however, his illuminations are his, and I must have my own.

In sum, I respect all writers on the basis that they have accomplished something I have not – the publication of a book. Each book has its particular strengths and will appeal to its own audience of readers. Neither, however, has lifted me from the doldrums of vague disappointment with the experience of aging, for I am neither as wise as I would like to be nor as accepting of this life stage as its inevitability requires.

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