Avocation — a subordinate occupation pursued in addition to one’s vocation especially for enjoyment
-from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary
Dreams die hard is something of an old chestnut, but having entered the heart of midlife, I am thankful that this often is true. I think especially of creative energies waiting to be tapped and unleashed, perhaps after some of life’s other priorities and responsibilities have been addressed, and pursued with the benefit of experience and maturity.
Two very dear, lifelong friends come to mind when I ponder this. Hilda Demuth-Lutze is a friend from college days at Valparaiso University in northwest Indiana. She is the author of historical novels for young adults. Mark Mybeck is a friend going back to grade school in Hammond, Indiana, whose band, Nomad Planets, has built a genuine presence in their local indie rock scene.
Hilda Demuth-Lutze, author of historical novels for young adults
Hilda’s desire to write novels was evident in college, but getting married, raising a family in Valparaiso, and becoming a high school English teacher would come first. However, she never let go of the idea of a writing life, and over the years she would exchange ideas, essays, and chapter drafts with friends and family members.
Her dreams of authorship started to become a reality when she and her sister Emily secured a grant to do historical research for a novel they conceptualized about two Wisconsin girls during the 1850s, whose lives would intersect with the Underground Railroad. Their collaboration led to the publication of their 2009 novel for young readers, Plank Road Summer. This would be followed by Plank Road Winter and Hattie’s War.
Hilda then set out to write a second novel — also for young readers — featuring a village boy in 14th century Germany who is summoned away for a year of service at Wartburg Castle. The resulting book, Kingdom of the Birds, interweaves encounters with Martin Luther and the history of Reformation Germany.
Pursuing creative aspirations in midlife may require extraordinary discipline, stamina, and juggling. Hilda has exhibited all three while building her platform as a novelist.
Mark Mybeck, Nomad Planets rock band, vocalist, guitarist, song writer
Mark has been into music for as long as I can remember — and those memories go back to the 3rd grade! When we were kids, he had a great record collection and knew what radio stations were playing the best music. (Thanks to Mark, his nerdy friend Dave was introduced to rock music and FM radio.) Though details have faded, I also recall that he put together a group that played at our high school battle of the band nights.
Mark went to college, got married, and took jobs in the graphic arts and (currently) real estate fields. Throughout this time, he never lost his desire to write and perform music.
Eventually Mark helped to put together Nomad Planets, a 4-person band, which has evolved into the vehicle for his musical expression. Nomad Planets have released a series of albums, including their latest, “Rise and Shine.” After several years of plugging away at their craft, their perseverance has paid off: They have become a presence in the Chicagoland/NW Indiana indie music scene and have built a core of devoted fans.
I’ve never formally interviewed my two friends about their creative avocations, but watching them pursue these aspirations later in life has been a joy.
My long-held homespun theory has been that many of us who belong to “Generation Jones” — the tag given to tail-end Baby Boomers who came along too late to experience the heart of the 1960s — are taking a bit longer to find ourselves and to realize the full meanings of our lives. (I can’t fully explain the reasoning behind this belief, but I trace some of it back to the weirdness and lack of definition of the 1970s, our formative years!)
In any event, seeing folks like Mark and Hilda do some of their most creative work in the heart of midlife not only allows me to validate my own theory (hey, I’m a professor…), but also sends a message to all of us that maybe, just maybe, some of life’s best stuff is waiting for us to embrace.
We’re seeing a lot of self-help books for maturing Boomers in search of fulfillment on bookstore shelves these days. One example is Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot’s The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50 (New York: Sarah Crichton, 2009). Lawrence-Lightfoot is a Harvard sociologist who collected stories of people in their 50s and beyond who made dramatic life changes.
The Third Chapter features stories of people who reached a point in their lives where they felt the need for a major transformation. Their stories are interesting, but frankly, many of them are in privileged positions. They’re well-placed subjects of a well-placed author. They may have quit their jobs and chased their dreams, seemingly throwing caution to the wind, but in reality many had abundant connections and back-up options in case the fairy tale crashed and burned.
By contrast, the stories of my friends are more typical, realistic, and accessible, embracing determination and pushing beyond one’s comfort zone. But make no mistake: They also are stories about life’s adventure, and in that sense they are inspiring tales for the rest of us.
What are some of your creative aspirations? Might they be the stuff of a new hobby, an avocation, or perhaps a later-in-life career shift? Here’s to their discovery and realization!
(Revised and updated, October 2018)