Saturday, July 21, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #14


WHAT DO I WANT TO BE WHEN I GROW UP?
8-13

 


Fifty-five years ago I decided I wanted to be a physician, and spent the next 16 years pursuing that goal. Thirty-five years ago everything changed, and after five years of turmoil I knew I wanted to be an artist as much as I did a physician. Without reservation I followed the path I cleared for myself with commitment and enthusiasm.

So, at age 70, I was caught off guard when once more things began to change, and clouds of doubt and uncertainty rolled in, obscuring that once clearly defined path. It was the beginning of a transition that, four years later, is still in progress.
The question is not what does the future hold for me, but what do I want from the remaining years? 

I am gradually developing a clearer sense of what I want for myself, and what I would like to accomplish. This recent journal entry describes still another change, this one related more to my attitude to my work and my age than anything else.

“2013 is the year that dispelled all the self-imposed age related restraints I had been laboring under in recent years. The key word here is “self-imposed”. My body has its own set of restraints that cannot be denied, but they have no place in this narrative.

I had foolishly convinced myself that my best work was behind me, and that there was no longer a place in my life for grand, sweeping aspirations and goals, and that my work would now be slow, deliberate, and a lot less ambitious. (Picture a tired old fart sitting in his studio ever so slowly working at an easel.)  I was that close to putting myself out to pasture.

Then came the Paducah Portfolio, After working for months on large canvases in 2012 for a gallery show in which nothing sold, I reacted by focusing all my efforts on smaller drawings and paintings, and the Paducah Portfolio was conceived.  With few exceptions, I devoted the entire year to the project, and in the process wiped out all of my nonsensical notions about age and work. It is impossible to overstate how significant this has been for me. I am facing 2014 with a head filled with ideas of things I want to do, which I will approach with the attitude that I will liver forever.

I have no recourse but to trust Rilke’s admonition that I will “…live into the answers”.

Saturday, June 16, 2018

NOTES FROM THE EIGHTH DECADE #13 NIGHT & DAY


NIGHT & DAY
August 2013



For years my life was defined by the events and circumstances (work, play, emotional and physical health, etc.) of the day at hand.  But recently a strange transition seems to be occurring. The days are taking on an increasing sameness, while the nights, which have always been consistently void of anything but dreams, are becoming unique. How many times will I wake up because of pain in my legs, back, or neck?  Will I have to get up to pee, or will one of the dogs have to go out?  Will Patience poke me and tell me to roll over because I’m snoring? Sometimes I wake up on my own and find that I am wide-awake at 3 A.M. I may eventually fall back to sleep, or get up and go into my study and read or listen to music. Or perhaps a profound dreams will wake me up, and I’ll find myself in that intermediate state between awakeness and sleep, not knowing if I am consciously continuing the dream or not.

While the days are becoming predictable, the nights are taking on a
life of their own. When the bedside light goes out I have no idea what adventure awaits me.

Sunday, June 10, 2018

NOTES FROM THE EIGHT DECADE #12


BETWEEN YESTERDAY AND TOMORROW
June 2013



Now, resting between yesterday and tomorrow, my understanding of myself is becoming blurred by time.

The accumulation of years, 74 to be exact, seems to have blurred my understanding of who and what I am. I have a reasonably good idea of who I have been, and what I have, and have not accomplished during my lifetime. The goals, desires, and aspirations that have guided me, although somewhat depleted, continue to bounce about in my head, as modest and grandiose as ever. However they have difficulty getting traction because the years have worn away some of the unbridled ambition and enthusiasm that never failed to convinced me I was in charge of my future.

This revelation – if I can call it that – came about as I grapple with the difficulties of trying to live in the moment, a concept that has taken on more importance in recent years. Having lived my entire life with one foot firmly planted in the future, grounding myself entirely in the present is proving to be difficult. Even in their “depleted” state, goals and aspirations intrude on the day at hand, pulling me into the tomorrows. The fact that at age 74 they are poorly defined only adds to the difficulty. What is a soul to do?

One option is to simply stopping thinking about it. Take my eyes off of my navel and stop all the ruminating, a sort of “buck up Gonzo” approach. Heaven knows how many times I have tried this. Unfortunately any success I may have had was always temporary.

Or, I can do what I always do…write about it, and if I’m lucky, by the time I finish doing so the issue will no longer exist.

So what will it be?  I’ll have to think about that.

Saturday, June 2, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #11


RESILIENCE   How well does it age?
October 2012




My first gallery show was a two-man show in 1977, and all of my work sold at the opening reception. For the next twenty years I sold almost everything I painted. When I moved to Paducah, over 900 miles from my home of forty years, I knew I would have to build a new client base, and was confident I could do so. After a few years of promoting my work and myself I succeeded in establishing a fairly consistent market for my art. Sales remained consistent, even through 4 years of a failing economy, until this year, when, as abruptly as turning off a faucet, they diminished to a depressing trickle.

I have had lulls before, but never like this. The past ten months have seen the fewest sales since coming to Paducah. Suddenly I find myself being tested, facing serious questions about my future; how viable is my art, can I recover the market I seem to have lost, what can I do to reverse this situation, and is it time for me to begin putting the paints away? Underlining all of these questions is an awareness of my age, increasingly a major factor in so many of my considerations these days.

Which leads me to the issue prompting this narrative…how resilient am I at this stage in my life?  When I began writing this, I was prepared to delve into the complex issue of aging, and how it affects our emotional and psychological attitudes toward the “stuff of life”. But at this very moment, the answer suddenly seems quite simple, physical issues aside; we are only as old as we allow ourselves to be. Or, as the old adage tells us, “you are as young as you feel”.

Adding years to our life entices us to think we must be changing, because after all, older people are different from younger ones. That is why all of my self-reflection begins with the reminder that I am 73 years old. This type of thinking is an insidious process that quietly skews our attitude and re-enforces the stereotypes of ageing. Recently I have begun to appreciate how mistaken I have been.

Age is irrelevant in dealing with problems and issues with my work at this stage in life. All that matters is my willingness to commit to the task at hand.

Note…according to actuarial data, a 73 year-old man can expect to live another 11.82 years. Now that is something I can hang my hat on.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #10


A DIFFERENT PLACE, A DIFFERENT TIME
September 2012

Medical office on our Maryland farm 1993

Gallery 5 in Lower Town 2003


I have had the good fortune of experiencing purpose and meaning in my life, pursuing what  I believed to be my personal destiny, medicine and art. My commitment to them has resulted in a series of changes in my lifetime, some planned, others not, but always accompanied by a sense of moving forward.  

The abrupt decision to leave Pharmacy school for a pre-med education and medical school – 19 years old

Switching residency training from General Practice to Internal Medicine which resulted in being drafted for 2 years of military service. – 26 years old

Leaving a full-time private practice for part-time Emergency Room work to pursue a career in art.– 39 years old

The end of my seventeen-year marriage – 40 years old

A second marriage – 44 years old

Moving from the city to an 18 acre farm – 46 years old

Opening a new medical practice on the farm after 12 years of art and emergency medicine – 53 years old

Moving to Paducah Kentucky and leaving medicine completely – 63 years old

In many respects I have lived with one foot in the future, and have never hesitated to “turn the corners in my life” (a phrase borrowed from one of Willie Nelson’s songs). My ability to do so depended on several factors. 

I’ve had an unfailing belief in myself as well as an incredible sense of optimism, a combination that overcame the fears and apprehensions associated with change, especially when approaching the unfamiliar.

I also possessed a powerful resource - a medical degree. I knew that no matter what the future might hold for me, there was always the option of finding full-time or part-time work in medicine. 

That was then. Now, at age 73, I face entirely different circumstances. The optimism and belief in myself are still with me, though slightly tarnished by the realities of these many years. But the biggest change has been the loss of that key resource, my medical degree. I no longer have the comfort of that fallback position; we live on a fixed income with little to no options of increasing it, other than the sale of my art, and that is tenuous at best in this current economy. I have no regrets about the choices I made. There is no doubt in my mind that they were the correct ones to make, and they have served me very well. This new place and these new circumstances... just one more corner to turn.

Saturday, May 5, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #9


I DON’T FEEL SEVENTY
January 2012

I just turned 73, and the words of my dear mother come immediately to mind.  She was 70 years old when she said, “Billy, I don’t feel seventy”. At the time I mistakenly assumed she was referring to how she did or did not feel physically, however, reflecting on my own experience with this process we call ageing I realize now what she really meant.

As a young man I assumed that as I aged physically, I would also age mentally and emotionally, seeing and responding to the world with a mind-set that was unique and characteristic of the elderly, because old people were different from young people, or so I thought.  I have since learned otherwise. Yes, the years take their toll on our bodies, and the accumulation of our experiences undoubtedly affects our attitudes and belief systems, but at our core, the essence of whom and what we are remains unchanged. We see the world through the same eyes, we receive and process the input from daily living with the same hopes and fears that have defined us for all of our years. I don’t look the same as I did ten years ago; I have aches and pains that I’ve never had before, and I am keenly aware of how tenuous my future is, but I still look twice at an attractive woman, I like the same music, and I have the same fears, hopes, and personal quirks that I’ve had all of my life.

I don’t feel like I am seventy-three. 


Saturday, April 28, 2018

NOTES FROM THE 8TH DECADE #8


TIME, SAM, AND ME
2011

I saw him walking with his wife, making their way to the registration tent for our 50th college reunion.  I couldn’t make out the faces but knew in an instant that it was my old roommate.  Sam's gait and posture are distinct enough to be recognized even after 50 years.  He holds himself erect, with his head high, but not too high, and his gait is measured but sure, with arms held quietly by his side.  As soon as he recognized me a smile came to his face, radiating quiet authority and competence, totally disarming by a veil of shyness.

Sam and I shared a room with 2 other men in our sophomore year at college.  We were both pre-med students and although we went our different ways socially we shared a lot of the same classes. I was the extrovert and Sam was quiet and reserved.  Sam was also brilliant; I don’t know this for a fact but would venture to say that he never got anything less than an A in anything he did.

We had no contact after graduation even though we both went to medical schools in Philadelphia (as did another of our roommates from that school year.)  I knew he specialized in cardiology but did not know he has been practicing in the Boston area for all of these years, while engaged in teaching and research in one of the cities leading hospitals.

I must admit to being surprised at the genuine affection I felt for someone I had not seen for over 50 years, especially since we were not close friends during our college days. I’ve been trying to understand this phenomenon ever since, and have decided that it represents one way in which time manifests itself.

Time has a way of focusing our attention on the essentials rather than the non-essentials. Looking back into our lives the unimportant and frivolous seem to fall away, allowing us to see or remember what we may have failed to see or have forgotten. At 72, I have more respect and admiration for some of the very things I tended to avoid or dismiss when I was 19. My first experience with this phenomenon occurred with my father. As a young man he had habits and ideas that I could not tolerate, but later in our lifetimes, and even more so after his death, they simply disappeared from my mind. I think it was Mark Twain who said, when he was 17 he thought his father was really stupid, and at 21 he was amazed how much his father learned in 4 years.

In Sam’s case we share a common past. We both experienced the joys and difficulties of medical school and post-graduate training so I can appreciate the commitment he has made to the profession. Coming from my own-checkered career I am impressed with his achievements and the fact that he is still practicing medicine full time. I regret that I missed the opportunity to establish a friendship with Sam. I think of him as one of the “good guys”. I believe we could have added something to each other’s lives. That may be the cost of the foolishness of youth.

Tonight at dinner I will raise my glass of wine in a quiet toast to Sam.

Shubrooks & Renzulli LVC graduation 1961