Gero-Punk Tribute: Twenty Years

When I was asked recently what I consider to be my “greatest professional accomplishment to date,” my immediate response showed up throughout my body rather than just in my head. I felt quite jangly in my gut and heart – I felt embarrassed and nervous — and this surprised me. I did some on-the-spot reflecting to see if I could suss what was up with me, why I was having such a strong response to such a reasonable question and I realized that it was because I couldn’t answer the question in the way I suspected I might be expected to answer it – you know, an answer in which I talked about something I created or enacted or received related to my work as an educational gerontologist (and gero-punk) over the past 20 or so years.

Though it felt a bit risky to do so, I decided to answer the question honestly, from my gut and heart.

So, here’s how I answered the question:

I began by talking about how amazed and grateful I am that over the past twenty years I managed to hold things together as a more-than-fulltime educational gerontologist and a mostly-single-mother to my daughter Isobel – who just celebrated her 20th birthday on Valentine’s Day! Not that holding things together was easy. It never was, not even in the times when I felt like I had managed to conjure up through force of will (and a ton of support from family and friends) a sense of some sort of life-wide abundance and stability.

I tried to be as present to our daily family life as I could be, while also taking care of myself (some years were better than others on that front), and trying to do the best, most creative work I could do within an often very challenging work context. Despite some enormous ongoing professional pressures (many of which were of my own making), I was so fortunate that throughout Izzy’s childhood I was almost always able to flex my work schedule so that I could teach when she was with her father (or during the summers I would teach only online and squirrel away my vacation hours so I could be mostly home with her), attend meetings with colleagues and students during the day when she was at school, do my scholarly and creative work in the small spaces in between all my other responsibilities, and bring her with me to several conferences around the country (Washington, D.C. and San Francisco were particularly memorable).

There are many times over the past twenty years when I disappointed myself – and Isobel, I’m sure, as well as others in my life – because of a temporary blinding confusion or because of a misalignment between my deepest aspirations and how I went about their enactment. Or because of my (often mis-perceived) capacity – feeling I didn’t have enough time or energy or resources to do what I wanted or needed to do and, interestingly, either over- or under-promising as a result.

But mostly – here’s the punchline to my answer – as I consider the past two decades I feel a great deal of relief and gratitude and the purest of joys because, at the end of the day, no matter what happened, no matter how hard it might have been sometimes, I’ve had a hell of a great time learning about how to be me in all my various roles and responsibilities.

And now Izzy is twenty and a sophomore at Bard College in the Hudson River Valley of New York state. She has her own increasingly complex life through which to learn how to create her own ever-elusive and shifting balance. Just as I have, she’ll make her own luck and her own mistakes. The life we’ve created together will hopefully serve as a foundation from which she can embark upon new adventures, much as it continues to provide a foundation for me as I embark upon my own new adventures.

 

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 Tribute: Twenty Years

  1. Shannon Coffel Vial says:

    Jenny…
    Your tribute is beautiful, honest and I’ve read it three times with tears in my eyes. Although I am many years your senior I am in a similar place of reflection; always wondering if I have been present enough, or accomplished enough, whatever that means?! My kids turn 21 on Friday. I wonder if it is the fact that our babies are entering into the “doing” part of life with all of it’s ups and downs and as mothers we are hopeful they navigate all the bumps safely; with happiness in their hearts and tons of laughter along the way. I hope you don’t mind that I have printed your amazing words above and am sharing it with Robbie & Gracie.
    You inspire me. I miss learning and sharing with you.

    Shannon

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