about the “The Aging project”
I am a 75 year old fine art photographer of more years than I sometimes care to think about. I have recently begun a new work called “The Aging Project,” possibly a picture book of portraits and documentary images surrounding some of the aspects of growing old. In my state of denial, this could be considered therapy. Fond memories come back to me shiny and bright but recent ones are harder to recall now. They seem just out of reach in my mind. I can’t quite grasp them. The internal map of a place I want to go, one I have been to many times before, needs to be rerouted in my mind when I climb behind the wheel of my car. This difficulty remembering how to get to a familiar place is a new thing. Losing my mind is one of my greatest fears, and unlike the teflon knee I received in 2017, my brain can’t be replaced with a new one. Millie Jenson said, “Age is pretty easy until the wheels start falling off.” It’s true, and in spite of all the bravado I’ve heard about growing old from many of my subjects, we all know deep down we can’t stop the process of aging.
I am looking for subjects, 70 plus, but really any age willing to sit for me and talk about growing old. More than that, I hope they can articulate some personal issue or aspect of aging with clarity, wisdom, even humor. Dress should be casual, no tux or evening gown. Although props are not necessary, perhaps a book in hand, or a pet in your lap, can add interest. Authenticity works best. The location for the sitting could be a coffee shop, your home, or some other appropriate space. You’ll need to agree to let me use the photos in the book, of course. In lieu of payment, I can offer an archival 5x7 print from the sitting, signed by me.
Help wanted — an very important part of this project is you.
Think of your participation more as a collaboration; your photograph(s) will go with your own personal thoughts on growing old. I’ve received many wonderful comments from my subjects already. Here is one from Naomi Zucker that resonates:
"It's been said that people grow like trees, that all the things we have ever been are still inside us, that, like trees, as we grow older we do not lose our earlier selves, but grow new rings around them. Young trees, like young people, bend with the wind and stretch toward the sun. But like trees, people thicken with the years; we find it difficult to bend and fear that a strong wind might break us; yet even if we can no longer stretch toward it, the sun still warms us. And within us, those rings remain; they are not merely memories, but the core of who and what we are. And like that young tree we once were, we, the old, may yet grow."
Yes, I’d want your thoughts and observations on aging. They can be in the form of a short essay, a paragraph or just a few sentences. Scroll down. Below are selected sample pictures and text. I’m not sure how long this project will last at this point, ditto how long I will either!
I’d love to have you participate. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call me at 441-8817 to set up an appointment.
Sincerely, Jan Armor
We are aging from the day we are born.
When someone dies, our relationships also die.
We all want to leave footprints, or maybe not.
We all know we are running out of time.
Growing old is an Incremental disintegration.
What are you doing in your retirement?
Early memories as a child or teen?
Key moments that have changed your life.
Loss of loved ones, parents, children.
The birth of your children or your wedding.
Are you lonely now? Do you see the kids often?
Are you afraid to die? What will you leave behind?
Is your mobility compromised, can’t drive, no public transportation?
Letting go of friends and our “stuff” is difficult.
What gives you joy? Friendships, pets, walks on a beach
Jean Vican, 77 years. You ask me what I feel about being ‘old’; this is s truly a thought-provoking question. Unfortunately I am not a gifted writer but I will do my best to explain myself.
I came from a very Lutheran family in the Midwest. Much of our social life revolved around our church activities which I enjoyed. Our Christmas Eve services were especially memorable – choir singing, candles glowing, and two huge Christmas trees behind the altar with blue lights. Magical! But no Santa Claus here!!
I remember visiting my grandmother’s home in the summers which was a delight to we kids as it still had an ‘outhouse’ and a real barn with a hayloft that was perfect for playing in. Grandma cooked on a woodstove! And one of our chores was to fetch pails of water from the water pump down the road. (Kind of like Jack and Jill) Delightful fun for we kids in the summer; probably a pain in the tush for my grandmother in the winter though. I wonder now how she did it!
But there was much sadness in our family following the birth of my younger brother, Jim. He came to us with multiple disabilities thus requiring full-time care which was provided by my saintly mom. She never complained even though her work never ended. She cared for Jimmy until he was 37 years old at which time he was placed into a special home for the developmentally disabled. I spent years feeling cheated of the time and attention I did not receive from my mom. In retrospect how selfish of me! In the 1950’s there was no help from social service agencies or therapists to help us in our struggle. It took me years to truly appreciate the sacrifices my parents made as well as their total love for us all. I will always feel some guilt for not being more understanding but then I was just a kid. Choosing nursing as my profession probably stemmed from this whole experience. Ironically when mom developed vascular dementia in her old age I moved her from her Wisconsin home to my home in RI. I had about 12 wonderful years then with my mom totally making up for the time I always felt I had missed with her when she was so busy with Jimmy. And Mom loved RI; we enjoyed together all its scenic delights. Only when you come from the Midwest does one really appreciate RI with all its scenic wonders.
I married into a Greek family when I was in my 20’s and absolutely loved their zest for life…My husband, George, and I had three wonderful daughters, a sailboat and a pizza restaurant. Eventually we divorce but fortunately were able to remain pretty good friends.. George later was diagnosed with a brain tumor with a poor prognosis. He had a girlfriend named Jane at the time. When George’s end was near both Jane and I were with him. He slipped quietly away with both of us at his side. George was a complex but a good man.
Old age brings its share of good memories and bad memories.. As I look ahead I hope the difficult times in my life have prepared me for the tough times that may be ahead. I pray only that I can face them with grace and dignity. With the help of God I think I shall.As one ages there can be an unusual amount of life curveballs along the way.
AS I GROW OLD…I don’t really consider myself old yet, but next year, when I turn 80, I’ll let myself use that as an excuse for all the things I forget. My most noticeable change has been how slow I have become. I used to start my day with a list of at least ten things to do but now if I get through four of them – and that includes laundry! – I feel as if I have accomplished something. Medical issues have interfered too, but some of them are my own fault, like falling off a stepladder and breaking bones just because I wasn’t being careful. The worst thing about aging, though, is losing friends. Several of my best friends died just last year and I still think of them all the time. And, finally, I am very aware of all the experiences I want to have before I die: places to go, stories to write, books to read, artistic endeavors that still reside in my head but haven’t been implemented yet, and how reluctant I am to admit that they may never happen.
One project I continue to work on is a little family history. My grandparents left England to establish a sheep station in Australia in 1880, and they sent my father to this country to go to university in 1912. He saved every letter his family members wrote him right up until he died in the 1970’s, and their contents reflect a very interesting cultural and social history of Brisbane’s development during those years. The Queensland state library wants to archive these handwritten letters (there are about a thousand of them!) and I’m hoping to take them to Australia later this year. So I am attempting to compile this information into a format that remaining family members might be interested in preserving. - Marjorie Burston
“It is only with the heart that one can see rightly. What is essential is invisible to the eye.”
The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint- Exupéry (courtesy of Sheila Milton)
THOUGHTS ON AGING, Well now . . . we’re all aging so I guess we’re in good company! I’ve been told that at my birth my mother voiced two requests – that I would have curly hair and that I could sing. And I have sung – mightily – for 8 decades! What’s more, I’ve been fortunate in teaching others the joy of singing for sixty years or so. In working with my older singers, whether in choirs or private voice lessons, I’ve noticed that age doesn’t matter much. The mystery of the human voice, as it accompanies us throughout our journey, is such that we can take pleasure in creating the melody and telling the story. What’s more – at 15 or 50 or 85 – we can give the gift of song to others – erase the worries of their day – and lift their spirits. Even my dog Pippin loves to sing! His aging voice can carry the high notes – “somewhere over the rainbow – way up high.” Sandra Chabot Landay, January 5, 2019
I sometimes wake up stiff from neck to toe, sometimes lonely, sometimes dizzy, but still very much alive. Sometimes I find myself walking quite slowly down my stairs, instead of running down them two-by-two as I once did. I swing the front door open and step outside. I have two wrought iron chairs on the small weather-beaten old deck that I have placed there so I can sit and watch the pond when the sun begins to rise. There's an overgrowth of trees to my right. They have seeded and rooted and created a tangle of forest which makes me curiously anxious. Yet, they are filled with bird song. My mind has energy enough to produce projects that should be done, but my body doesn't always feel like doing them. I may get to it tomorrow. I'll take the day off and sit, watch the breeze and the ripples on the pond and ruminate about what's left to think about. I am sometimes saddened by what used to be and what will be no more. Like all stages of life, this particular stage is pretty interesting, but I haven't gotten the hang of it.. But I know this time is precious too. The then, however, is full of moments, full of joy, full of life and stories. I haven't had the time to unravel the meaning of all of it and maybe that's what's left to do. Unfold the story of this life and those that were part of it. Include the ones I knew, the ones I never really knew but feel connected to in some mysterious way by the nature of chance. After all, who knows what their significance was or might have been? It's kind of like the moment when one swimming sperm connects to one waiting ovum. It is the wild improbable link that threads one creation to another and keeps the story going.
I still drink too much coffee and I sometimes think that maybe I'll take up smoking again. I believe smoking is my overriding pleasure and at this age, I see no reason to covet health or longevity. I am a stubborn warrior daring my body to break down.. Mostly I am curious about my waiting destiny. I know that I cannot know what that will feel like, only that I want to be ready for that dim day that will either make me a hero or a coward.
Yes, of course, I was good looking once. Well weren't we all? Young, free, full of energy and hope with no sense of time or that there was a limited supply. I had a few daydreams feeling sure they would become real, spending little time thinking that things change, or that I would. Yet, it never occurred to me that my friends would grow old and some would die sooner than me.
Some of us were destined to be more successful than others in making something of our lives.Is there a mysterious guiding hand leading us to our final destination? Maybe if I stretch the point I can say I made something of mine. I can count the moments when I made a difference to myself as well as to others. Sometimes I did go further than I thought. Other times disappointing myself when I did not rise high enough, always hoping I'd find the brilliance in at least one of my pursuits sometime in the future.
I see the sun beginning to rise higher in the sky and in awe I realize I have been witness to so many decades already used. So many people I once called my friends. I feel the full weight of those years. I have lived through some remarkable times.
Taking a deep breath, inhaling the air and pushing it into my lungs, I get up and pour another cup of coffee and find myself smiling, wondering if any of our lives will matter much in one hundred years.
Yvette Nachmias-Baeu, January 5, 2019 Excerpt from “BEST FRIENDS” - Lulu Press.
Marylen, age 71, “Aging: The question is do we follow the words of Dylan Thomas, “Do not go gentle into that good night” or graciously accept it and its inevitable end. Aging is filled with choices, challenges and a cacophony of emotions. There is no clear path or magical answer. Just a day by day decision on we are going to live that day.
“Do not go gentle into that good night” - Dylan Thomas
"Aging is inevitable, growing old is avoidable. Expressed differently, one is never too young to be old or ever die, but one is never so aged as to become old. This is because aging is physical, while being old is mental and spiritual. In my experience one does not grow old if five force fields stay active in daily consciousness: love, health, play, work, and caring for the future." ~ Richard Falk
My daughter reminded me, “Mama, 83 is a prime number.”
In my youth, I had too many places to go, too many people to see, and too many things to do, mostly directed by others - my parents, my teachers, my spouse, my boss, my children - and totally focused on the future. It was a time of tension, stress, and worry as I juggled it all to get to the day of retirement.
Thankfully, this stage of my life has slowed, and I cherish the gift of owning the majority of my time. It was so exhilarating at first, that stretch of endless time; but eventually I realized that by retiring, I had essentially severed my connection to public education, which had been my life’s work. The thought came, if I am no longer a teacher, who am I now? I felt untethered, but surprisingly, it felt good.
Sipping leisurely from my sentimental coffee mug which reads, “Old teachers never die, they just lose their class,” I stare in the face of my mortality and my trail to that end. I realize it’s the back nine, the fourth quarter, the 7th inning in a game that I am destined to lose. But I decide, I will give it my all and try to stay in the game until the end. So I revise my bucket list to more of a game plan, than a travel destinations. Immediately the present comes into focus. I will be healthy. I will be helpful. I will maintain family and friend connections. I will be open to whatever opportunities and adventures float by. I will stay in the moment and be grateful for it. It’s not a check list, but a guide to keep my life interesting and to help me stay interesting to others.
Instead of a daily “to do” list, I keep a daily “accomplishments” list. It is much more satisfying. At the end of the day I feel good, not stressed about what I have yet to do. There are always necessary tasks and chores, but at this stage of my life, it’s not about, “How do I fill my day, but how does my day fill me?” Daily asks and chores can wait, if something of interest or someone in need calls to me. Other than my calendar to remind me of appointments and meetings, I let each day be, and I wake in anticipation of what will come to me that day and what the weather brings. I rarely follow the weather, except on golf days. I can’t control it, so I don’t let it control me, except on golf days.
My favorite quote is from Ralph Waldo Emerson and has been my email signature for the past 20 plus years, "Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail." I continue to find his words relevant today, as I struggle with societal ageism that depicts ageing as sad, wrinkles as ugly, and old people as irrelevant. It’s funny; the older I get, the happier I feel. My wrinkles? I smile more, frown less, and am constantly reminded by my mirror that my game is almost over. I embrace the reminder and realize it’s now or never. Wrinkles inform. As for being viewed by society as irrelevant, I have no control over that, except to say it is a double loss. You are passing on learning from my experiences and life lessons, and I am missing learning about you. This fact makes me sad, but I don’t dwell on it.
My new identity is still evolving. I teach a little, but only as a volunteer. I join civic organizations and groups and support them with my time. I write. I cook. I garden. I read. I travel. I entertain. I am happiest when I am contributing to the game of family, friends, and community with my personal game skills, but I relish the ‘time outs” without guilt. I know with time, these skills will wane, but I do not fear death. I believe it will be yet another inevitable adventure of the moment. - Etta Zasloff - age 71
I believe that aging is inevitable, that it is a physical thing. Growing old is a mindset. We don’t get old if we don’t think old. If you surround yourself with people of all ages, and good spirited people, it’s harder to think old and you get a better perspective on how you look at keeping your mind younger. This helps to keep you grounded, more active, happy, helps to keep thinking positive, and makes you someone people like to be around. Helping others is a key in helping me to not think I’m old. I feel like there is a purpose to my life. This means a lot to me in my life. Friends and loved ones will keep you young in spite of yourself and knowing you may have made a difference to someone is a good feeling.
Now, there is another aspect to making you feel old and that’s PAIN. We all have some kind of pain, some serious some not so. Pain can slow you down, make it hard to do what you like to do. It puts an edge on your mood, puts a damper on the way you like to be. When this happens, I try to stay focused.
Then there is the doctor routine. Now that can make you feel old. It’s always the same - lose weight, don’t do this or that and lower the stress in your life. I could lower some of the stress if I stopped breathing, just kidding. Most pain we do ignore but some pain needs to be taken care of and that can be a scary thought. If we don’t take care of it, it will affect our quality of life, thus making us feel old. Ken Sliney
Ken, gourmet chef and accomplished photographer, does all the cooking every night.
Generations of performing artists have told us that aging is a process of losing what you once had. Testimony like "The thrill is gone" (B. B. King), "I feel like some old engine, that lost my drivin' wheel" (Tom Rush), and "0h yea, life goes on, long after the thrill of living is gone" (John Mellencamp), are but a few. Yet what a surprise it is when that really happens to you.
When young you plan your later years thinking of all the things you're going to do when you finally have enough free time. My motto used to be work hard, play hard. I expected that removing work from the equation would result in playtime every day. But, back then I used to go on vacation and resolve to spend one day doing nothing except maybe read a book. Year after year that failed. Every day of vacation was focused on intense activities. At the end the vacation, I would catch up on rest when I got back to work.
Many years later the surprise is, without having to work and having lost some abilities, I'm not angry that I can no longer do the challenging things that I used to like to do. Instead, I can enjoy mellow. I don't miss at all the strain of intense physical activity. I just relax on my porch rocker watching the sunset. - Woody
Vyra, “Age was never been a secret of mine.”
"Age is a state of mind. I'm convinced that if you think you're old...you're old! One does not choose to be born, determine his genetic background, select his parents, or fashion his upbringing. However, that said, reaching the age of reason and enjoying the blessings of living in America, you begin to understand the 'glass is never going to be full' and 'half full' is the better way to look at X years ahead. Again, state of mind. So, I am not old...(though I am a day older than I was yesterday) " Vyra Imondi
Ben’s favorite quote,
“I will be conquered; I will not capitulate” - Samuel Johnson, on death.
I’m glad that I’m 82 and still truckin’
I’m glad that after 6 years of Parkinson's, I can still get about with walker and cane. Although my voice is greatly diminished, if I yell, I can still make a point.
I’m glad for our caring community that helps me whenever I need it.
I’m glad that I can still write short stories but, sadly, no more novels.
I’m glad that the No Name Writing Group that I founded six years ago, is a vibrant, fun, funny collegial group that gives excellent critiques of my and other’s writing. And The Guild Creative Writing Group gives me a chance to read short stories and laughs and friendship.
And I’m glad for Kate, my muse and love of my life. For without her there would be no life for me. Dave Fogg - age 82
Jet Vertz - age 70 - Let me use the game of football to describe human lives and growing old.
The game of football is played in four quarters. The average human life span is 88 years (in the Western world). If we divide the 88 years into 4 quarters, the following can be said about each quarter: 1st Quarter (ages 1 to 22) – growing up and learning; 2nd Quarter (ages 23 to 44) – establishing a career and raising children; 3rd Quarter (ages 45 to 66) – providing leadership in a career profession and building a nest egg; 4th Quarter (ages 67 to 88+) – Retirement and Golden Ages period. This means that most of the OLLI members are living in the 4th quarter of their lives.
In the game of football, the most interesting and important quarter to watch is the 4th quarter. Most games are won or lost based on how they play the 4th quarter. Good football teams will apply what they learned from the previous three quarters during the 4th quarter to win the game. This is particularly true with the New England Patriots football team. There have been numerous times where the Patriots were trailing the opponent’s team going into the 4th quarter, yet, win the game when the 4th quarter ends.
The fourth quarter of our lives shouldn’t be looked upon as a useless, over-the-hill period. Instead, it should be considered as an opportune period to follow-up with a passion or a hobby that we didn’t have time to pursue during the earlier quarters or start a business that we always wanted to, etc. As in a football game, the fourth quarter of our lives can be lively, exciting and make it a winning quarter. Yes, I am retired from my professional career, the aviation business. However, I am not retiring to a rocking chair. Instead, I intend to “Think Big” and rock the world by applying my knowledge from the previous three quarters with high spirits and gusto through URI’s OLLI Program and other endeavors.
“The Patriots have been writing this wonderful (winning) football story for nearly two decades but for how much longer? Can we agree that it’s now in its final act. This year, next year, but sometime in the near future, it’s coming… Time is the enemy no-one beats, the opponent that never loses, the opponent that just now lies and waits. And the opponent that knows the clock is alway ticking.”
Bill Reynolds, Providence Journal sports writer, 12/15/2018
Jet’s zest for life is contagious. The story of his life is remarkable.