Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel succeeded in starting a discussion. His article in The Atlantic “Why I Hope to Die at 75” is intended to startle the reader, and it does.
As head of the Department of Medical Ethics & Health Policy at the University of Pennsylvania, Emanuel speaks with authority. As the older brother of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Hollywood agent Ari Emanuel (who inspired the character Ari Gold on the HBO series Entourage), the man also possesses first rate genes for attention getting.
The title of the article is, however, a bit misleading in that Emanuel’s main premise is: “Once I have lived to 75, my approach to my health care will completely change. I won’t actively end my life. But I won’t try to prolong it, either.”
Aside from the merits of his arguments or speculation on whether or not he will change his views as he ages, it was Emanuel’s ascent into the realm of creativity that caught my attention.
He writes: “(B)y 75, creativity, originality, and productivity are pretty much gone for the vast, vast majority of us.” Emanuel goes on to cite research that supports this assertion and adds a quote from Einstein: “A person who has not made his great contribution to science before the age of 30 will never do so.”
I might be sympathetic to Emanuel’s underlying belief that we are overly focused on extending life, and I am open to research that provides statistical analysis to help us better understand outcomes, but I am slow to get on board with his generalizations about creativity.
As someone involved in fiction writing, I am often asked where I get my ideas. I wish I knew, but I am comfortable in knowing that I have yet to meet a fellow-writer who possesses a good answer to this question. The fact is, we don’t understand much of anything about the origins of creative writing, not to mention identifying the sweet-spot in life for penning good works. Authors such as Raymond Chandler and Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t start until their mid-40s, and I know from having attended writers’ conferences that many older writers exhibit vibrant careers, some just getting into writing in their retirement years.
I am tempted to take exception to Emmanuel’s statement on creativity, but I don’t really feel the need for one simple reason: writers will write – that’s what they do and they won’t stop because a researcher presents an opinion concerning the bell curve of creative output.
If I live another twenty years and turn 75, I may well still be writing. And even if Emanuel is right about an expiration of creativity, I might happen to be a bit wiser, a bit more advanced in my understanding.
Stephen King is known for saying “Fiction is a lie, and good fiction is the truth inside the lie.” Perhaps the wisdom of age will get me closer to those truths and, in turn, produce good fiction. Either way, I hope I’m still going, regardless of what Emanuel or anyone else says. But that’s all in the future. Until then, I hope to wake up tomorrow, look around, take in life, and maybe, just maybe, get a few creative words on paper. With any luck, maybe even capture some truth.
by John M. UrbanShare on Facebook