Gero-Punk Contemplation: Time-traveling

An essay by guest Gero-Punk

Colleen O’Brien Davis

ImageMy fellow Gero-Punk Jenny says that we are time-travelers and I think it is so; at least it has always been true for me. As a kid my time-traveling could only go one direction sending my imagination deep into my future. These days, just a few weeks from my 58th birthday, my time-traveling takes me backward as well as forward. 

I was an awestruck kid.  The natural world around me held me captivated. I was a ponderer, a wonderer, the kid who lay on a blanket staring in rapt admiration of the sparkly stars in the smog and light pollution free skies of a 1960’s Southern California. Orange blossoms and night blooming jasmine scented the nighttime air. It was a wonderful intersection of time and space in which to inhabit and grow. No wonder that I looked ahead at what the future would hold for me.  In the 1960’s the spirit of the year 2000 loomed far ahead as a distant sign post of vast progress. Discoveries and inventions would change our lives; computers would run my home if not the world.

For me the realization that I would be 44 years old as the year 2000 took its place was another source of awe. I wondered what adulthood would hold for me surrounded by the devices of science fiction. I time-traveled ahead to see myself at 44 – very old, many children and for some unknown reason, frizzy hair! I am nothing that I envisioned I would be. Even at 58 I feel ‘not old’. My hair is long, thick, and sleek-after a skilled blow dry; it is my best feature. I have a single son born late in my life. My time machine appears to be flawed.

Jenny, my fellow time-traveler, recently challenged me through her own writing to connect with my future self. This is perhaps a timely exercise for me although I have had enough surprises in my life to understand that “Man plans and God laughs” but peering ahead is a lifelong habit. It is not currently a happy time in my life. After the utter joy of completing my M.A., I have spent an entire year volunteering in two counties and looking for a job. Let me tell you I am an employer’s dream –capable, loyal to a fault and mission driven. I can, to quote Bob Thayes in his cartoon about Ginger Rodgers, “dance backwards and in high heels”. In the last year, however, I have had exactly one interview and no job offers. I am not poor-my husband’s career is soaring. I am, however, deeply discontented, afraid of living my last productive years unable to find meaningful work of my own. More than anything else I fear being haunted by regret in old age and when my guard is down that fear is overwhelming, sickening, despairing.

What would my future older self advise? When I call to my future it is my mother who comes unbidden. A tough, resourceful role model especially in old age, she admonishes me to remember the words of Hubert Humphrey, especially appropriate since I seem mired in the 60’s: “Never give in and never give up.”  Find another path, another niche, blaze a trail; write, paint, grow dahlias. Pull yourself up by your boot straps, woman! 

My mother muddies the water though. This is not my future voice but hers. I ask her to be still, quiet myself, make room for the elder me and I hear a whisper, softened by the years between us:

“Make it count, kid!”

Colleen Davis O’Brien is a 2012 graduate of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program at Marylhurst University.  Her thesis is titled “Mindful journey: A new vision of psychosocial intervention in early dementia.”

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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