Wednesday, February 16, 2022

Here to 85

I came across a video from psychologist Meg Jay - imagine your 15-years-from-now self. Who will you be then? How might you nurture those aspects now?

Katey Wolf, A Distant Planet (2022)
I'll be 85 in 15 years. Both my father and mother were very much themselves in the world until 85 and then things changed, their late 80s were a struggle with and acceptance of decline and imminent death. Their last few years were important times of closure, of blessing. And they were rough. At/near 90 they were gone.

Now is a time of reflection and planning for me. Setting intentions. What inner seeds to nurture? What future me would I like to be? How will I live full on with that vision and then have a safety net for the final phase? Will it happen in a ICU (surprisingly early for my Uncle Marvin)? Or gradually at assisted living (like my Uncle Jerry, approaching 100)?

Inner Seeds

Artist. Husband. Gay. Male. Buddhist. Jewish. Elder.

These are the identities that recur. They embed others, like activist or monk, that are ways of being. There are others - White, Retired, Technologist, Executive, American - that weave in and out of privilege and circumstance. When I write about some of these, I get stuck in a loop. What am I attached to? What am I running from? What am I letting go of? What new growth might be encouraged? 

Yesterday a friend said that now, in his late thirties, he is discovering who he is. I feel the same way at seventy. Who am I? Who is the "I" before these recurring loops? What does being look like now? Mastery? Is art making a calling or a hobby? ... No decision needed. See what unfolds.  


Independently interdependent - health, mobility, mental agility to retain agency. To live in a place of physical and emotional safety. To live in relationship with others who's love embraces me but don't bind.

To be expressive as an artist, making drawings, painting, photographs, writing. Creating objects in the world which spark joy, wisdom, conversation, that emerge from the fullness of life's challenges and celebrations.

Full On Now

This blog. My zines. As Shaila says, my calling cards. And beyond that, the substance, the created work and the human being.

Nurturing the artist who is emerging, in community with other artists, nurturing the projects that artist is creating, a place for those projects in the world, an engagement with the world (people, places, ideas, ideals, ...) that the projects are part of, that I am part of. 

This artist who is me. Who creates in images and words. Who is in the muck of the world and the ivory tower of the studio. Who has lived fully and is living fully.

Prior Rounds

In 2006, 7, 8, at what felt like a similar juncture, a life coach asked similar questions and we began to explore ways for me to be at 55 thinking about the future I wanted to grow into. I studied coaching. I trained to be a coach. And then I came to a choice point, to dive deeper into coaching and develop it as the way I spent my time, engaged with the world, earned my living.  And from that, to move into being an elder. I felt very much on the brink of a leap into unknown waters, a cliff diver.

Then events in the world created an irresistible opportunity to be a member of the Federal Health Information Technology Policy Committee. From 2009 to 2017, that was my defining role, defining activity. After eight years, that had run its course. 

In 2017 I started to reestablish a path of nurturing others, as a Buddhist meditation instructor, as a co-active coach. The year began by staffing a month-long retreat and leading weekend retreat programs. I was about to staff a meditation instructor training program. I was about to staff two coach training weekends. 

Those plans were derailed by a call that my mother was in the hospital with a heart attack and being scheduled for cardiac bypass surgery. Within a few days, my father was in the hospital with complications from lung cancer. Their simultaneous health crises were ironic - that my parents were still deeply connected after more than forty years of acrimonious divorce. 

In that time of personal uncertainty, I took on work as a senior executive in a healthcare software company followed by a year or so of freelance consulting, creating a kind of stability following my father's death and during my mother's slow recovery.

In early 2020 I completed a final consulting project shortly before the pandemic. I had already turned on Social Security, shifting my income from newly earned to relying on entitlements and investments. A next phase was underway.

As An Artist

During the summer of 2018, inspired by David duChemin's Soul of the Camera, I dusted off an old digital camera, found photo editing software and signed up for photography classes at Lillstreet, a local art center. I mostly made self-portraits. Who am I? How am I in the world? What is performative? What is revealed?

As the pandemic shifted classes to on-line, I took a zine making class. Something about that form spoke to me: a soapbox for proclaiming my identities, an art form to explore sequences and repetitions, an answer to the question of what to do with the photographs, images and words bouncing around my mind. In a time of social isolation, I sought the community of zine makers, a rag tag tribe of self published individuals, swapping ideas, swapping zines, through the mails, at bookstores and zine shops. 

Some projects getting attention

a group show at Hyde Park Art Center of the SIP (Sequences, Iterations, Permutations) participants, curated by Jasper Goodrich

a contemporary drawing class at Lillstreet with Karen Dana Cohen

a next round of zines 

an archive of my mother's artwork, her sketchbooks, her apartment and all the ephemera that fills it

As An Elder

What is it to hold space for the next generations? How do I honor the history, personal and cultural, that got me/us to here and now? How is this a different way for me to be? What might I do differently now? In what context might I be "an elder" to others? What is it to be an elder?


Holding others gently, without grasping, even more gently than offering a hand, offering presence, offering conversation. No guidance. No answers. Allowing, observing, being present for their wisdom as it emerges. Without bias or judgment. Simply being with them, as I so often wished others would be present for me, without shaping me in their image. Neither cheering me along nor sobbing as I stumble. Just being present.

Holding myself gently as this body falls apart, in small ways now, in greater ways at some unknown point. How will I be in relationship with others? With Eric, my husband? With Katey and Frani, my sisters? With Alex and Daniel, teenage nephews who are rapidly growing? With other relatives, near and distant? With various friends, acquaintances, service workers, healthcare providers, and on and on? 


Daily rituals, making coffee and steel cut oats, writing, walking, washing dishes, cooking meals. Other rituals emerging, like drawing or painting. Some that come and go, like formal meditation, like physical exercises, yoga. 

Taking on projects, like zine making. Offerings, like a monthly contemplative photography gathering. Reading. Buying and borrowing more books than I will ever read. Soaking in the worlds of those books. A rich soup to feed me.

How do I sustain an art practice over the next decade or more?

Present in the world, as it is, and as it might be. Living in the moment and seeing the structures and the outcomes they produce. It's not only about being nice, but about repair, about justice, about healing. About being with the heart break, the heart opening, the yearning, the frustration, the rage and the redemption.

and now... as an elder...

honoring others perspectives, their ways of thinking, of being

engaging with people at the edges ... 

my queer compatriots who declare our thorny presence

the Jews who seek a direct relationship with adonai (not an anthropomorphic god but a non-dual sacred presence) and a healing of the world which does not make being a Jew one of the chosen people (arrogant and often fascist)

the Buddhists who are living as awake and fallible humans, seeking the sangha that enlightens together,

the environmentalists who are taking action now to nurture the earth and rebalance our relationship with it, at scale

the many waves of people who have lived on these lands, the indigenous, the colonists, the slaves, the slave holders and profiteers, the global capitalists, entrepreneurs of all shapes and sizes, warriors protecting all manner of beings and things, seekers of truth and freedom 


This is what I know from my years in healthcare, from being part of my parents aging. Am I willing to act?

Do the things I love, that are the reason to get out of bed, to get out into the world. Keep those loves flourishing. They are the engine and the fuel which makes everything possible.

Remain active in mind and body. Both are essential. The literal steps taken today make it possible to keep taking steps in the future. Losing mobility is a downward spiral. Some days I make my goal of 40 active minutes and 7500 steps. Not every day. Hmmm. My doc says I need to work up a sweat and significantly elevate my heart rate. Hmmmm hmmmm hmmmm.

Define my personal boundary for invasive procedures, whether diagnostic or treatment. At some point the risks of action are greater than the risks of inaction. False positives. Side effects. At 75? At 80? At 85? Not that far away.

Protect the brain - through activity, through nourishment. Beware the effects of anesthesia - they continue for months or years. And also beware of intoxicants. But... 

Ensure that the activities of daily living, from social relationships to eating, bathing, toileting, can be addressed day to day, every day. As abilities and circumstances change, address the changes early when there are more options and more innate resilience.

Establish a relationship with palliative and hospice care before there is a crisis.  One of my grandmothers died in her sleep at 84 after a day which included a yoga class - a rare miracle. Prepare the ground for the miracle, they don't happen by themselves. And prepare for life when there are no miracles other than those of daily live as a human being in an ever changing cosmos.

Resting. Breathing. Savoring a cup of warm water. Feeling the keys as I write these words.

Larry Wolf, Living Room (2022)

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