Composing a Further Life
The Age of Active Wisdom
By Mary Catherine Bateson
Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307266439, 272pp.
Publication Date: September 14, 2010
List Price: $25.95*
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From the author of Composing a Life (first published in 1991 and still in print), an inspiring exploration of a new stage of the life cycle, “Adulthood II,” created by unprecedented levels of health, energy, time, and resources—of which we have barely begun to be fully conscious.
Mary Catherine Bateson sees aging today as an “improvisational art form calling for imagination and willingness to learn,” and in this ardent, affirming study, she relates the experiences of men and women—herself included—who, upon entering this second adulthood, have found new meaning and new ways to contribute, composing their lives in new patterns.
Among the people Bateson engages in open-ended, in-depth conversations are a retired Maine boatyard worker who has become a silversmith and maker of fine jewelry; an African American woman who explores the importance of grandmothering; two gay men finding contentment in mutual caring; the retired dean of a cathedral in New York City who exemplifies how a multiplicity of interests and connections lead to deeper unity; and Jane Fonda, who shares her ways of dealing with change and spiritual growth.
Here is a book that presents each of us—at any age—with an exhilarating challenge to think about and approach our later lives with the full force of imagination, curiosity, and enthusiasm. At the same time, it speaks to us as members of a larger society concerned about the world that our children and grandchildren, born and not yet born, will inherit. “We live longer,” she says, “but we think shorter.” As adults find themselves entering Adulthood II, making the choices that will affirm and complete the meaning of the lives they have lived, they can play a key role, contributing their perspectives and their experience of adapting to change. In our day, wisdom is no longer associated with withdrawal and passivity but with engagement with others and the contribution that Bateson calls “active wisdom.”
Mary Catherine Bateson was Clarence J. Robinson Professor in Anthropology and English at George Mason University from 1987 to 2002, when she became Professor Emerita. She is a Visiting Scholar at the Center on Aging and Work/Workplace Flexibility at Boston College and, until recently, was president of the Institute of Intercultural Studies in New York City. She is the author of Composing a Life; With a Daughter’s Eye: A Memoir of Margaret Mead and Gregory Bateson; Peripheral Visions: Learning Along the Way; Full Circles, Overlapping Lives: Culture and Generation in Transition; and Willing to Learn: Passages of Personal Discovery. She resides in Hancock, New Hampshire.
“The kind of life-altering perspective we expect from Bateson. . . . She champions the virtues of discontinuity—the growth spurts, the sudden illuminations.” —Los Angeles Times
“One of the wisest people on the planet has written one of the finest books on the later years of life.” —Jean Houston, author of A Mythic Life
“Bateson has used her unique vision and insight to light up the many facets of the ‘Further Life,’ giving us a whole fresh way to look at this new frontier of longevity.” —Jane Fonda
“An exquisite and wonderfully readable book about composing a further life, one that is entering its richest phase. Whether life begins at thirty, fifty, or eighty, the wisdom she conveys will make each of the reader’s days a fuller one.” —Harvey Cox, author of The Future of Faith