Gero-Punk Preoccupation: Betty and Jake

We saw Jake and his human Betty almost every day when we (Happy-the-dog and me) walked or ran in our park.

Both Jake and Betty were gray on their tips and edges. They’d both seen quite a lot of life though not at the same velocity. As for Happy and me: Happy is gray on his chin and I have gray stripes, just in case you are wondering.

Happy and I and Betty and Jake would always stop to chat. Even if Happy and I were on a run and trying to beat our last time, we’d stop and keep pace with Betty and Jake.

Last fall, sometime in November, we realized we hadn’t seen Betty and Jake for quite some time and so we began to wonder. And then we began to worry because their usual park routine was so far from what we had come to count on.

And then one time when we were walking in our park, a bit before winter began, we ran into Betty but Jake wasn’t with her. Betty wasn’t walking in our park, she was in her car driving by the park and she’d stopped her car and rolled down the window so she could talk to us and tell us that Jake had died of old age.

We told Betty we were quite sad and sorry to hear this though we had wondered if something had happened to Jake because we hadn’t seen him and Betty in the park for a few weeks.  We asked Betty if we could do anything and she said it was really difficult to live without Jake. I (but not Happy) suggested that it was very important that she continue to take walks even though Jake was gone. And I (but not Happy) told her that I would be happy to take walks with her any time.  Betty thanked me.

We haven’t seen Betty since then and that was in the late fall, before the winter solstice, before the winter holidays. Every day when we are in the park running or walking we look for Betty but we’ve never seen her.

We have a general idea about where Betty lives (and where Jake used to live). We know what Betty’s car looks like. Today at the end of our walk in our park we did some reconnaissance at Betty’s condominium complex to see if we could determine exactly where she lives. We had in mind that if we saw her car and determined which condo she lives in we might knock on the door and invite her out for a nice walk. But her car wasn’t in the parking lot and so we abandoned our mission.

I don’t know about Happy-the-dog, but I can’t quite yet give up on my search for Betty. I know how devastating it is when one’s creature-companion goes back to the stars.

I also know how our dog friends walk us though we think we are walking them. And how important this silly pretend misunderstanding is for keeping we humans engaged in the wide world. We think we are taking care of them. But they are taking care of us.

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Gero-Punk Contemplation: Inviting our future older selves for a visit

Would you like to invite your future older self for a visit? Here are some questions to contemplate:

When you attempt to visualize your older self, who and what do you see?

  • How much older are you than you are now?
  • How far into deep old age are you able to travel in your imagination?
  • When you try to imagine your future older self, how do you feel? What sensations do experience in your body? (and where are the sensations located?)
  • When you imagine your future older self, where are you? What are your surroundings? Where do you live?
  • What are your hopes for your future older self (and what are your fears)?
  • How will you live fully in your older body, in whatever state your older body happens to be?
  • What are some ways in which you can experience enjoyment, freedom, and passion…in your aging body?
  • Who are your co-creatures in later life?       With whom do you spend time and enjoy life?
  • What is the quality of mind — the form of consciousness — that you bring to your aging experience? To being an old person?
  • What do you see as your purpose in your later years?
  • What new things is your future older self learning and experiencing?
  • What does your future older self consider to be a “good day”?
  • What changes in your thinking and acting do you need to make in your current life in order to have the embodied old age you envisage?
  • What does your future older self want to tell your present self?
  • If you invited your future older self over for a cup of tea or a glass of wine, what would you like to ask him or her?

This is what my future older self tells me every time she comes for a visit: Embrace your aging journey, wherever it may take you!

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Gero-Punk Invitation: Our Future Older Selves

cartoon jenny

At least twenty years ago, I began to cultivate an intentional relationship with my future older self.

I invited my future older self to visit me whenever I felt like it.

The first time I met future me was during a process of guided visualization and contemplation, and I was stunned by the solidity and clarity with which my future older self materialized in my mind’s eye. I recognized my embodied old self — there was no mistaking me!

Though I recognized myself, I must admit to being quite surprised by and curious about certain elements of my imagined later life, and especially tickled to discover that my future older self quite likes herself and her life as an old woman.

Over the years, as my future older self has continued to make appearances in my dreaming (both at night and during the day, while asleep and awake, invited and not), I’ve made it a practice to attend to what changes and what abides in the time-travel story I’m living.

Perhaps you’d like to catch a glimpse of my future older self? Here’s but one version of my future older self:

I am preparing to go out and about – perhaps to dine with friends, or to go to a meeting, or maybe I am given a book reading or presentation. Standing as close as I can get to the large oval mirror in the front hallway of my beach house, I’m carefully applying deep red lipstick and checking my eyeliner. My hair is bobbed and shiny silver; I run a brush through it to smooth the top layer and wonder to myself if I should wear one of my many cool hats. After I make certain my make-up is just right, I slip my thick glasses back on and step away from the mirror so I can take in as much of my image as I can. I’m wearing a black skirt and boots, dark purple sweater set, and a chunky silver necklace. I look sharp! Now at the beginning of my 9th decade, I’m a couple of inches shorter than I was in my middle years; as have other women in my family, I’ve grown smaller and shorter as I’ve grown older. Though I have some arthritis in my knees, hips and shoulders, my back is straight; I’ve always had pretty good posture and because I’ve continued to exercise throughout my life course – walking, yoga, and occasional kayaking have replaced running, cycling, and rock climbing in the past couple of decades – I can still get around pretty well on my own two feet. My vision has continued to grow worse over the years, though, so to someone observing me as I amble along I may seem a bit tentative, even clumsy sometimes. But I’ve been running into doors, tripping over sidewalk cracks, and holding the railings when I walk up and down stairs since I was in my early 40s, so what’s new? My hearing has also been growing worse, and now I must wear hearing aids if I want to be able to participate as fully as I can in conversations, or to enjoy a presentation, movie or concert. I am excited by my many projects – research, writing, and community organizing, as well as cooking and gardening. I don’t have many resources, just barely enough to make my daily life work out okay and still be able to save some resources for the time when I might need in-home caregiving or perhaps must give up living independently in order to live in a communal setting. I also have a little bit of money put aside so that I can visit my daughter and her family, or invite them to join me on a family trip every couple of years. I continue to be excited by the discoveries I’m making about the human journey, specifically about later life, old age, and being an old woman. Despite decades of working in the field of gerontology, thinking and writing about adult development and aging, hanging out with old people, and contemplating my own aging, I am totally stunned and surprised by what it is like, now that I’ve arrived in this land of old age. It turns out that what a couple of old persons told me when I was a younger gerontologist is true: you can’t really know what it is like to be old until you are old, and despite the “feast of losses” most of us experience as we travel into the later reaches of the life course, there are experiences I’ve had as an old woman, things I’ve thought, feelings I’ve felt, ways I’ve become more me that would have been impossible had I not made it this far in my life journey.

Would you like to invite your future older self for a visit?

If you are living in or around the Portland, Oregon area, please join me at the first Gero-punk Salon of 2015, on Thursday, January 8th. We’ll be meeting from 6-8 p.m. in the Flavia Salon on the Marylhurst Campus. We’ll be engaging in contemplation, discussion and serious play around the theme of “envisioning our future older selves.” Feel free to contact me for more information:

Let’s celebrate – gero-punk style! — the gift of a new year to explore our travels through the life course.

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