Gero-Punk Adventures: Leaping into the unknown

the edge of the unknown

For the past several days I’ve had this strange feeling, an internal itch, a sense of tension or pressure. It’s this feeling that there’s something important and time-sensitive that I should be doing. I don’t mean taking down the Christmas tree and putting away the holiday decorations and writing thank you notes. (I do still have all of these tasks ahead of me). I also don’t mean the annual project of offering my aspirations for the new year. (Already aspired—check!).

What’s interesting is that my recurring feeling is accompanied by the thought that by not doing whatever it is that I’m not doing, I’m also not fulfilling my responsibilities – and my deepest longings — in some consequential and profound way.

Today is Thursday, and as I write this, it is 2:00 p.m. I’ve had a low-key, slow day. My gut is off and I feel “puny,” as we say in my family when we aren’t feeling our best physically. I just finished washing the dishes. Before washing the dishes, I took a nap. Before I took a nap, I wrote some emails—mostly professional, some personal. Before that, I did a market and collected the mail and made my daughter breakfast (she heads back to college early Saturday morning). After I write this post, I’ll take Happy-the-dog for a walk. And after that, who knows? Perhaps I’ll read. (I have a pile of books given to me as holiday gifts.) Or watch something? I just cancelled some much anticipated plans for later, so the late afternoon and evening are open and full of possibilities.

Feeling puny or not, usually on a Thursday afternoon, I’d be preparing to teach my afternoon class at 3:15. On this particular Thursday afternoon – the first Thursday afternoon of winter term 2016 – I should be preparing for and anticipating teaching the first session of one of my gerontology seminars. Last winter it was Theorizing and Researching in Gerontology. This winter term, I was scheduled to teach Women’s Issues in Aging.

As I write this, I am realizing that I have fulfilled one of my usual pre-class preparatory rituals; I took a nap. (Naps for me are a central practice for restoring and focusing my energy, as well as managing anxiety and nervousness.) And I’ve been thinking and reading about the kinds of things I have always – for more than half of my life! — thought about and read in preparation for a new term of teaching.

But unlike every winter term since 1997, I won’t be stepping into a Marylhurst University classroom at 3:15 today. I wonder if part of my puniness today is a result of the uncertainty I feel, not knowing if ever again I’ll have the honor of creating and nurturing a learning community, of engaging in deep collaborative inquiry as a teacher-learner? (In response to this question, my heart jumps up-and-down in affirmation. And suggests that, perhaps, I am also feeling some grief.)

This past December 23rd, I celebrated my 49th birthday and ushered in my 50th year on the planet. Two days before my birthday I celebrated the end of my long career as a member of the Marylhurst faculty.

I made the decision to leave a place, its people, and a calling to which I have devoted myself for almost two decades.

What I had to do began to become real to me on August 28th, 2015. It was one of those decisions, like leaving any significant long term relationship, that only now I am beginning to realize I’d actually begun preparing myself to make well before I was able to consciously contemplate making it. Quite possibly I stayed in my relationship with Marylhurst for longer than was good for either of us, but you know how love can be, yes? But by walking away, quite possibly I’m giving up something that I’ll never be able to find again.

And yet, and yet.

As brutal as the experience was of getting to the point of this irreversible and life-altering decision, as much as it hurt (for me and for others), once I was on the edge of the decision, it felt inevitable and transgressive and emancipatory and – strange word, I know – graceful.

Sometimes when we love someone or something, we stay. Sometimes we stay for a very long time (almost 19 years!). And sometimes when we love someone or something, we leave.

And leap off the edge of the known universe.

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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5 Responses to Gero-Punk Adventures: Leaping into the unknown

  1. This. “Sometimes when we love someone or something, we stay. Sometimes we stay for a very long time (almost 19 years!). And sometimes when we love someone or something, we leave. And leap off the edge of the known universe.” Beautiful. And sad. Mostly beautiful. ❤

  2. Lori Pear says:

    I think I feel the sense of grief you describe, Jenny. Almost two decades IS a long time for any career these days, and yours involved so many people. You impacted the lives of so many that it wouldn’t surprise me if others are grieving right along with you. I know I am grieving. As an alumni with no obligations to MU, I know my sadness at your absence from the school would be deep if I was on campus. I know this because I am sad as I visualize you at the front of one of the classrooms engaging us in learning or talking to us before, during or after class. Life transitions can be tough but I also know that you felt there was no other choice…. Perhaps your future does hold teaching (and learning with your students) in another venue or at another school. Whether another school is part of your future or isn’t, you have SO MUCH to offer others, a piece of advice my late paternal grandmother gave me before succumbing to Alzheimer’s disease, and what I have to remind myself of now and again.

  3. jlaw56 says:

    As I read your latest Gero-Punk Adventure, I was catapulted back to 2006. I was entering my 50th year and wondered as the infamous Peggy Lee song laments, “Is That All There Is”? I didn’t want that song to become the anthem of my life, and I was itching to do something really cool with the next half of my life, feeling that corporate America was not all it was cracked up to be!
    When I entered through the doors of Marylhurst, I knew instantly that I would be changed forever…. and, I was and have been. I marveled at how smart, encouraging, insightful and kind you always were – to everyone! You were (and still are) one of the single most important influences in the second half of my life. You helped me feel that all things were possible, and that aging does not equal limitation – quite the opposite – it can mean entertaining possibilities and taking the risk to reimagine yourself.
    I am eternally grateful for crossing paths with you, Jenny, and I want you to know how much I have appreciated you for your encouragement and support – for now I am thoroughly enjoying this second half of my life, and doing the important work I have always dreamed of.
    My wish for you is that this coming year is one of discovery that leads you on the path to your most excellent leaps into the unknown.
    Love & light,
    Jen Lawrence
    “Sometimes it’s the smallest decisions that can change your life forever”
    ~Keri Russell

  4. atlonglastlove says:

    Beautifully said and felt.

  5. helenfern says:

    And during your time there you made a huge impact on the lives of many – I am one. I was terrified when I started back to college in my fifties! You kept me going – motivated-supported me when I felt unsure or tired – and when I moved on to the next step, my masters – you were there to support me even when it wasn’t your job.

    And now I call you a valued friend. Thank you.

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