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: jsasser@marylhurst.edu

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

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. As of 12/21/15, 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 fifteen 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 cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (8th edition). I live in Portland, Oregon with my dog Happy. My daughter Isobel is a Sophomore at Bard College in New York state. I have been on the planet 49 years.
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4 Responses to Gero-Punk Invitation: Our Future Older Selves

  1. Erica says:

    Dear future-older-Jenny,

    You better start practicing the bold red lipstick look now so you will have it perfected in 30 more years 😉 I think it will look fantastic! I vividly recall the details from first time you read this description of your future self, (maybe we were together in class?), the oval mirror, the plans to head out for a talk, the way you describe your changing senses & the way you carry yourself. Your envisioning of Izzy’s future family. It’s such an affirmative and realistic vision, and it always inspires me to create my own.
    My future older self is also preparing to leave the house, (are we meeting each other?), yet I am likely not as deliberate about my departure since I have lost track of time over coffee and am running late, plus I have to make sure the dog goes out to pee. My future older self does not keep time, rather runs on instinct and internal rhythm as the day goes by. One of my kids lives nearby, and helps me out from time to time. If James is still alive, he is out golfing and looking forward to dinner and a glass of wine with me tonight. If this sounds a bit like a fantasy I suppose it is; why not envision a lovely version of my future older self? Entirely possible, for sure, but leaning toward ideal for sure as well. I live with my future older self in mind, I make decisions based on her welfare and contentment, so I am prone to believing her life will be worth looking forward to!

    • Jenny Sasser says:

      Erica, I love this line in particular: “My future older self does not keep time, rather runs on instinct and internal rhythm as the day goes by.” I’ll practice wearing red lipstick if you’ll practice not keeping time! Deal?

  2. caryandjohn says:

    Thank you Jenny, I love this. I love your matter-of-fact and realistic vision- it helps ease me and the anxieties that creep in when I think about my older self. When I think about my older self like this, it makes it feel normal and not so scary. This technique is great in thinking about so many transitions in life… wish I could be there for your first Gero-punk Salon. I’d love to hear how it goes – Will you be at AGHE in Feb? Cheers, Cary Sweeney, Director, Retirement Center, UC Berkeley.

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