While I am away in New York City for a couple of weeks, a fantastic group of elderbloggers and elderblog readers agreed to fill in for me. Today it is Mage Bailey, retired but still an artist and journal keeper who has worked in fine arts and graphics for more than forty years. She is now blogging at Postcards and photographing the world around her. Mage graduated from college at age 50 with a degree in fine art, has had a number of one-person shows and been in group shows, is the mother of two, grandmother of 14, and wife of a wonderful George.
No one ever told me how liberating it would be to have a stroke.
There it was, and at age fifty I couldn’t laugh about having a stroke. I certainly thought of a stroke as limiting not liberating. In fact, I turned into terrible old grump wanting everything to be fixed and fixed now. Only after years of angry struggle did I discover that there were no repairs for damaged short-term memory or departed hand-eye coordination.
I discovered I couldn’t draw any more. Slowly I noticed forgetting-things-was-me too. A head injury specialist told me to make lists. Lists helped life. Lists did not help my inability to draw. I took that very seriously. I’d spent forty some years drawing and painting with eight years in art school only to discover now I couldn’t put pen on paper. I was lost without laughter.
Dr. Harriette Schapiro, one of my college biology professors, decided I was going to learn to quilt. It was color, form and art in fabric with a martinet for a teacher. Neither of us thought about the fact that hand-eye coordination would be required to cut seams or sew them together using a machine. Regimented by the Doctor, I just did it. Without laughter.
I didn’t always remember quilts well either. Once I lost my newest quilt top. Pleased with finishing it, I took it to my poetry group to share. Afterwards I placed it on top of an unfamiliar car while I opened the doors. When I got home, I no longer had my red quilt. I’d forgotten that it was on the trunk lid. I found it, folded, on a rock in the front yard at the poetry group house. Only much later could I laugh about this.
Slowly I grew liberated from my old thinking. Then I bought a computer. Using it was a struggle. In the beginning, every day I would learn how to use it all over again. I wasn’t laughing about this either, but I was loving the new worlds I discovered through the computer. I, a journalist since 1974, discovered I could blog. I felt home at last.
Years later, I laughed with joy when I discovered digital photography. In the beginning, this too was discouraging. Image stabilization - what was that? As technology improved, my shaky hands gave me a few recognizable pictures. If I remembered to put the settings button on automatic, I had slightly better fuzzy pictures.
Or my shots were blurred because of too few pixels. What were pixels? The first camera told me I had two megapixels (MP), the next, six MPs. I complicated life by getting Photoshop Elements which I couldn’t understand and continually forgot how to use. What mattered was that I’d found a new medium which fit both my limitations and my years of training. I was a working artist again. Now that brought broad smiles.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I went to Alaska. I used my new, 12 MP, dual image stabilization camera with many smiles and a few groans when I repeatedly dropped it. Yes, too, I took my ten-year-old, dinosaur of a laptop, bought used online, and was able to keep up with my blog while at sea. I remembered how to use it - most of the time - and was the only grey-haired woman with her own laptop on board.
We have come home to the news my husband will be laid off next month. Sometimes my brain offers me great negative pauses, other times it burps about this. I’m working hard on accepting that new changes are in our lives - yet again. After a few weeks of adaptations, this old hippie who used to dance in the streets will again work at remembering to laugh all the way into what ever new, liberated life we find ourselves.
I now know I can do laughter.
EDITORIAL NOTE: While I am away, The Elder Storytelling Place is on hiatus. You can read past stories here. And if you are inclined, you could send in stories for publication when I return. All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Instructions for submitting are here.