Aging Creatively: Bill's Stone-Balancing Routine

I'm always looking out for ways that folks older than 55 express their creativity, and I was delighted to accidentally spot Bill while on a walk July 4th weekend.

Perched at the shoreline in Sausalito, California, self-trained artist Bill Dan has been creating dynamic stone spires on the rocky slopes offshore for almost 20 years. With the backdrop of the San Francisco skyline off in the distance to the right and Angel Island to the left, this setting provides the perfect view for visitors. But perhaps the most striking phenomenon is the artist/philosopher who sometimes kneels on the sharp rocks to build his temporary sculptures.

Mesmerizing to watch, the stone-balancing sculptures come to life before your eyes. Rocks of all sizes and shapes precariously balanced atop one another -- in ways that seem to defy physics -- stay put without any adhesive. The artist squatting on the rocks this day painstakingly and patiently maneuvers them just to the point that they hold in place. The creations represent the utmost in simplicity, resonating with the artist's philosophy that people make things too complicated.

Bill is from Indonesia where he worked as a warehouseman for many years. Now his days are spent among the rocky outcroppings that line the shore of some of the most picturesque ocean front spots in northern California. I am told that you can find him in one of several scenic waterfronts day after day in all kinds of weather creating art and using his unique talent for aesthetic balancing.

Watching Bill from behind, as viewers do from the safety of the tourist street that flanks the rocks, I noticed his grey hair tied back in a bushy ponytail. His tanned body is muscular from the continuous lifting of rocks that may be heavier than 50 pounds each. He works gracefully, navigating the awkward positions necessary to hold a multifaceted boulder in his right hand while he readies and steadies the rocks already in place with his left hand.

The process reminds me of some of the more complicated yoga poses I've tried to do in the past. At the same time the movement suggests Tai chi. When you think about it, these Eastern meditative forms are perfect for maintaining balance, concentration and focus -- the tools essential to Bill's trade!

Why does he come to the shoreline day after day? Simple. Because he can. There is no payoff besides the satisfaction of creation. Perhaps this makes sense to him because his age places him squarely in The Vintage Years, that stage of life after about 55 when the pleasure and meaning derived from doing something is satisfaction in and of itself. No longer are goals and milestones set in place for external rewards -- the reward is contentment in the here and now.

Clearly, Bill's art is not permanent nor will it even survive the night that follows a blustery day. But his creative process or art form begins anew each day, a clean slate, a fresh idea, a challenging execution and the gratification that follows. And while it's not his primary motivation, the accolades from an appreciative audience applauding their approval behind him, is a bonus.

All this and it's great for his aging brain because it includes what I call the ultimate brain tonic: newness, complexity and problem solving!


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