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I am a writer, a mom, and a friend. In this blog, I explore all of that. Please join me in this conversation by leaving a comment on anything you've read. Or follow me on Facebook @ Beth von Behren (author).

Friday, February 19, 2010

Opinion Shaper: The Pursuit of Creativity at Mid-Life

This is Opinion Shaper #3, published in January 2010:

Opinion Shaper: The pursuit of creativity at mid-life

by Beth von Behren

Tuesday, January 26, 2010 1:15 AM CST

One of the best books I've ever read, "A River Runs Through It," by Norman Maclean, was published when the author was 74.

It was his first work of fiction, written at an age when many people are pricing retirement homes on golf courses. Maclean spent his life in academia, teaching others how to read and write and find their creative muse. He had been an avid, life-long storyteller, but he did not pursue a writing path of his own until late in life.

When he retired, his children encouraged him to put pen to paper. He continued to write fiction until his death in 1990. I find his story as inspiring as his writing, which is lyrical and beautiful. He didn't stop living at retirement. He found purpose and joy on a new path. He found his voice.

My friend Kevin Renick found himself on a similar journey over the past several months. A friend from college, we had lost touch, but reconnected this year on Facebook. I remembered Kevin as a creative guy, a writer, a poet, a musician and a journalist. We had many discussions about music, and Kevin always seemed knowledgeable.

Of all my classmates, many of whom were talented and ambitious, Kevin was the one whose name I fully expected to see in lights some day. As I raised kids and pursued a career of my own, I often wondered where he had ended up.

It turns out that like so many of us, his life didn't exactly turn out the way he may have envisioned it. He suffered through a series of disappointments - a lost love, a failed musical partnership, several dead-end jobs, some bouts with depression - but eventually did become involved in several creative enterprises.

He continued to write songs, and he did some freelance writing for local publications. Eventually, he became a driving force behind Noisy Paper, a local alternative monthly magazine, and when it folded, he co-founded Playback:STL, which still exists in an online version.

In 2000, he started working for a local company and threw himself into it, setting aside outside creative goals in an attempt to find some professional and financial stability. He was laid off last year, just about the time the movie "Up in the Air" was filming in St. Louis.

It was at about that time that I reconnected with Kevin, who in the wake of unemployment had started writing songs again. I saw him perform and followed his posts on Facebook during what turned out to be both the worst and the best time of his life.

Kevin had written a song called "Up in the Air," about finding purpose and meaning in the aftermath of losing a job. He wrote the song long before learning about the film of the same name, which is about a man who flies all over the country handing people their layoff notices.

Realizing that there was huge synchronicity afoot, Kevin attended a speech by the film's director, Jason Reitman, at our alma mater - Webster University. He handed him the song on a cassette tape - a technology so out-of-date that Reitman had to track down a car stereo to play it on - and the rest, as the saying goes, is history. It's a history that has now played itself out in both local and national broadcast stories, and yes, in lights: Kevin's name appeared recently on the marquee over Vintage Vinyl.

The worst part of the story, the part you won't hear about on NPR, happened just a few days after Kevin's fateful meeting with Reitman, when his mother took a bad fall, from which she never really recovered. She died two months later, before Kevin got the e-mail from the film's producers saying they wanted to use his song in the movie.

So, at the age of 52, in a year when he both lost and found inspiration, when the worst happened, but also the best, when the weirdness of celebrity turned his life upside down, Kevin Renick found his voice.

He has penned dozens more songs - two albums' worth, the first of which is titled "Close to Something Beautiful," and he continues to perform locally, where if you're lucky, you can hear him sing the song that changed his life: "I'm up in the air ? choices drifting by me everywhere. And I can't find the one that would help me do the work I've left undone. 'Cause I'm up in the air." - words and music by Kevin Renick. I think even Norman Maclean would be inspired.

(Note: Kevin will perform at the Iron Barley restaurant, in their downstairs club, Fred's Six Foot Under, on Feb. 26. You can download the title song from his first CD at his Website www.kevinrenick.com).

Beth von Behren of Olivette is one of 17 West County area Opinion Shapers. Opinion Shapers are guest columnists who submit a column three times a year on areas of interest to them. von Behren is a public information officer for the city of Kirkwood.

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