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At This Stage: What We're Passionate About Now

Two midlifers reflect on what gives them joy and fulfillment these days
 

By Barbara Thau | January 4, 2013
Sonia Aviles and Arnie Karr are passionate about performing.
Sonia Aviles (left in Army fatigues) and Arnie Karr (right) are passionate about performing.

In a new series called "At This Stage," Next Avenue is talking with people in their 50s and 60s around the country to find out what drives them, excites them, delights them and worries them at this moment of their lives. We’re especially interested in learning how boomers see things today, compared to when they were younger.
 
Sonia Aviles: Performing, at Long Last
 
Sonia Aviles, 62, recently posted this saying on her Facebook wall: “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams talk you out of yours.”
Aviles, a widow and retired school secretary in Allentown, Pa., knows all too well about passions deferred – in her case, artistic ones.

 
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It wasn’t until Aviles was in her 40s that she began to pursue a long-dormant desire to perform. But she has been making up for lost time ever since by acting, singing and dancing in local theater productions such as South Pacific, Pippin and Oliver.
 
She recently discovered two new performing passions: tap dancing and flute.
 
Aviles now sings and plays flute in her part-time work for Seniors Helping Seniors, a national intra-generational companion service.
 
But Aviles’ life-changing pursuit of her latent dreams might never have happened if not for an off-the-cuff comment made by a stranger 22 years ago.
 
She reflects on the passions in her life today:

 
When I was growing up, my cousins and I would put on a show at family gatherings. We’d all go upstairs and make up little songs and dances, and come down and perform them, usually at my mom’s house in Queens, New York.
 
I wanted to be on Broadway and on stage. My mother was opposed to it. I don’t know why.
 
Soon after my husband died in 1990, I sang along with the congregation at my church and a gentleman behind me said, ‘You should join the choir.’ So I did, which stirred up feelings that I really wanted to sing – especially when the choir director and organist asked me to perform a solo.
 
I had never done anything like that. The first time I sang solo, I thought I was going to have a heart attack and die. But people commented that it was beautiful.
 
A year or so later, I got up the gumption to go to an audition for Barnum at the MunOpCo Music Theater in Allentown. I was stunned and surprised that I got in. Actually, I was elated. When you’re performing, you feel a great sense of accomplishment. You’re almost high on life.
 
A month after I retired at 60, I signed up for tap dancing lessons; that passion goes back to my childhood, when I would watch every musical.
 
(MORE: Why We’re Hardwired for Midlife Reinvention)
 
I also took up the flute two years ago and love it. If I’m playing something that is beautiful to my ear, it gives me such joy; it’s like I can envision the angels in an orchestra.
 
I feel that I’ve come into my own because of my performing. This is who I always was.
 
Doing these things now makes me whole. I don’t think about ‘I don’t have money for this,’ or that my son, Michael, has Asberger’s syndrome. You can’t live in that negative place.
 
All these things I’m doing keep the spark in my life. I enjoy doing them myself, but when I see the faces of other people and they tell me that I was wonderful, that is the real benefit.
 
Arnie Karr: Making Music and Making a Difference
 
Arnie Karr, 59, a senior writer for the fashion trade publication Women’s Wear Daily, has two personal passions in his life: Playing keyboard in bands and taking an active role in causes he cares about.
 
Karr, who lives in Merrick, N.Y., has had a love affair with music since childhood. He started playing the accordion in second grade.
 
These days, when Karr isn’t working, he is often playing keyboard in bands, like Time Was and Piece of the Rock, banging out everything from doo-wop and classic rock to pop, country, standards and jazz.
 
And he began vocalizing his political views more strongly after his father, a former New Dealer, died in 2009.
 
Karr talks about his dual passions:

 
Music was the first thing I discovered I was really good at. But unlike my friends, I had no pretense that I would grow up and try to make a living at becoming a musician or a star. I had too big an appetite to be a starving artist; my professional focus became writing and editing.
 
I got my first paying gig when I was 11 years old, but my performing trailed off after college. Then I got married in 1977, and moved to California. 
 
(MORE: How Creativity Keeps You Sane)
 
I came back to New York the year John Lennon died. When Lennon was shot, we had a little jam session vigil at an editor’s apartment. One of the members of that group was playing for a doo-wop group and when they needed a keyboardist, they called me to fill in. Over time, other projects followed.
 
Today, we play everything from weddings and corporate parties to fraternal organizations to fairs. It’s tremendous fun. Sometimes we open for people like Johnny Maestro and the Brooklyn Bridge or Earl Lewis from Earl Lewis and the Channels, a doo-wop group that goes back to the mid-50s.
 
When I’m playing, I’m concentrating so much on the music that everything else sort of abandons my brain. Other things that might have been at the top of my mind 10 minutes ago are completely gone. Playing tends to make the anxiety go away — music transports you to another plane.

Then there’s the gratification from the audience — applause, people singing and playing air guitar and dancing. And you’re an agent of that experience. That’s also very gratifying.
 
I would feel very empty, and feel like a really important part of me wasn’t being utilized, if I wasn’t playing on a regular basis, whether on my upright piano at home or at a gig.
 
I’ll keep on doing it as long as the phone calls keep coming. It’s a real change of pace from putting out a newspaper five times a week.
 
What’s also changed about me, and what surprised me, is that although I was always a person of pretty strong political convictions handed down from my father, I now feel more compelled to action.
 
That could be making contributions to Democratic presidential and congressional campaigns; groups like People for the American Way or Common Cause; environmental charities or the Red Cross, especially after Hurricane Sandy.
 
I’m also actively engaging people in political discussions now. I used to sit back and listen. Today, I’m much more likely to argue with someone about an issue I feel strongly about.
 
A few years ago, there were discussions of issues that didn’t have direct impact on peoples' lives. Since then, we’ve been through 9/11, Sandy, Newtown. So politics are not something you just read about anymore.