©2019 Frank Grygier.
No matter how fast I swim or how much I run I'll never be able to outpace the process of aging. We all start young and move through life largely unaffected until one day we wake up and there are far fewer years in front of us than there are behind. And when you finally start to grapple with all this it seems as though the process of aging just jumped out of the bushes and surprised us. Almost as if we never saw it coming or, at least, we never acknowledged that getting grayer (or whiter) hair would be part of our own story. But one day you look in the mirror and you see a different person than you did the month or week or year before and, as much as you try to hide it, you have to admit that the process spares no one.
My 64th birthday is just around the corner. It's not an event I'm looking forward to. I'm not ready for friends and family to queue up the old Beatles tune, When I'm Sixty Four, and torture me with it all day long. But I'm not exactly depressed about it either. I feel like I'm in a good place since I'm not experiencing any medical issues, or financial worry. My eyes and ears still work. My knees are pain free and my back never hurts... But I do notice that I'm becoming less tolerant of people and events that waste my time. That would include interviews wherein the subject takes a long time getting to the point. Movies that stretch out the patently obvious reveal. Deliveries that go awry. Flights that are delayed.
I think, once all your bills are paid and your kids are through school, you grapple most with what to do for the rest of your life. I worked for so long as a photographer and, when everyone depended upon me financially, it didn't seem wise to even consider changing horses (careers) in mid-stream. Better to continue on as long as everything was working ... but you have to know that the sense of responsibility that drives us is also a bit of a prison that traps us into a certain well worn repetition mostly because it seems "safe."
Belinda and I were walking with Studio Dog through the neighborhood the morning after we got back from Montreal and we were talking about what I might do next. Her response was to write more fiction. I said that I might but that I still feel an strong attachment to photography. Her advice was to continue doing as much work as I wanted to do but to reject anything that wasn't fun, didn't make me smile, and to reject any project put me in contact with assholes who work hard make life less than wonderful. I think it's good advice but I think I'll take it one step further and only do work that conforms to my vision of art. My art.
I love the work I get to do for Zach Theatre and they'll have to pry the camera out of my cold dead hands to get me to stop, but the work I've done for most multi-national corporations is like fish. It tends to stink after a couple of days. And most of it never gets even close to making it into the portfolio because ... well, just because.
There are two problems I can see with the whole scary idea of getting older. One is that you all of a sudden have too many choices. For example in the middle of my career I could always justify switching systems but the economic reality was that something had to go out in order to bring new stuff in. If I wanted to switch from Canon to Nikon then all the Canon gear had to go on the chopping block to subsidize the purchase of the Nikon gear. Now that everything that requires big money is paid and done with I don't have to get rid of Fuji to buy something Pentax and I don't need to peddle the Pentax or Fuji stuff to play around with the new Panasonic stuff. But, you end up with too many choices. Too many magnets pulling you out of the orbit of creation and creating tidal pools that just confuse the issue of how to proceed with the very basic practice of making photographs. I'll figure that one out. Maybe I'll have a "garage" sale at the office and sell it all to the walls except for one lone camera and a couple of lenses (always a dream I've had....).
You also have more choices about how you'll spend your time. Fewer photo projects take entire days or weeks. Most are shorter and more focused. A portrait. And evening shooting theater. A half day on a location. So you have time to do whatever you want. Then you have to decide what it is you want to do.
But the second problem is more significant. It's based (for me) on the idea that for men in particular it's the whole idea of having responsibility for things that seems to give the most meaning to our lives. In that respect having your kid launch and leave the nest, and being sure that he is capable, eliminates one of my reasons for existence = being responsible for his wellbeing and tangentially responsible for helping him to be successful. Ben, always the overachiever, is more competent at 23 than I was at 43. No worries there but no more feeling of vital responsibility.
It's the same thing with my lovely wife of 35 years. She's more financially successful in her work than I am and doesn't depend on me for.....anything (other than friendship, companionship and a shared existence). I think when we hit this age our real need is to redefine some sense of responsibility; even if it's just to ourselves. Being responsible for living well. Being responsible to support our friends, loved ones, and our charities.
So, this is sounding way too serious.
Here's something to chew on instead of grappling with issues better served up in an Ingmar Bergman movie = Sony's camera menus suck. But their haptics suck more! Discuss!!!
Maybe tomorrow I can distract myself from the fear of uncertainty by starting a big Android versus iPhone discussion.... Or maybe I'll just do a portrait in the morning and then go for a walk.
All good advice about aging happily accepted and shared. Thanks, KT
©1980 Alan Pogue