Following My Dream
When I was almost 60 years old, I asked myself: “How old do I have to be to follow my dream?” I left behind a research career – not to retire – but to launch a new career as an artist. My friends and colleagues were not really surprised. For many years, art had been my passion-on-the-side. I painted on vacations and I sketched during meetings. In fact, professional seminars would often get disrupted when someone noticed my pencil or pen-and-ink portraits of people sitting around the table; everyone would want to look at the sketches and pretty soon nobody would be paying attention to the seminar or committee meeting.
When I was a young woman, I had considered studying art but, somehow, the idea of earning a livelihood as an artist seemed daunting and unrealistic. Instead, I became a social scientist. I got a Ph.D. and specialized in the study of aging. I taught courses and gave lectures; I directed studies; I wrote research articles and books. I won awards for my research and developed a national reputation in the field of aging. My career was intellectually engaging – I had an interesting life.
Then, one day, my husband had a heart attack and that changed everything. He recovered and has since become more physically fit than ever before in his life – he just completed bicycling down the full length of the Mississippi River. Even so, this encounter with mortality made both of us ask: what’s really important? What do we want to do with our time?
I made a decision: I needed to spend some of my life really focusing on art.
Launching my art career was like giving re-birth to myself – in full color. I developed my own technique for reverse painting on glass. Although glass painting is an old tradition, I more or less discovered my own process for painting upside down, inside out and backward on hand-blown glass.
The experience of aging and the passage of time are among my favorite art themes – so I bring together my professional interest in the study of aging, my personal encounter with growing older, and my art. All of my art is colorful and whimsical. For example, one of my glass art works is a series of plates called “The Sisterhood of Sleeplessness.” I’ve noticed that a lot of women are like me – awake at odd hours, 2 am, 3 am, 4 am… These plates show houses at night, with women looking out of their windows – each of us may feel alone, but we are really part of a “sisterhood.”
Another piece of glass art is called “Life is a Game of Monopoly” – it’s about the interweaving of different dimensions of time: stages of a person’s life, historical time (from the Stone Age to the Web Age), seasons of the year, times of day. There are glass “cards” that show “fate” or “fortune” – like “Roof leaks – pay $9,500” or “Go to hospital – pay $250,000” or “Sell art – earn 35 cents.”
In addition to my glass art, I just published a picture book about aging – it’s called I’m New at Being Old (www.temunapress.com) and is a whimsical autobiography with colorful and fanciful art. As the book begins, I wonder if I’m ready for this journey toward an “alien universe.” I fret about the “breakdown of movable parts” and potential “unraveling of my mind.” But I also celebrate my own vitality and creativity and my “richness of years.” I come to understand that I am joining a burgeoning sisterhood of older women – “a hundred million of us and more.”
Since publishing my book, I have been giving talks to community groups, and I have met many people who are also “new at being old.” A number of people have told me that they are struggling with what to do with their years. Should they start an encore career? Should they take art lessons? A writing course?
We live in a time of longer life spans than ever before in human history. For many of us, our older years can be longer than the periods of childhood or middle-adulthood. The prospect of a long life presents opportunities as well as challenges.
For me, the decision to launch an art career was a natural choice – this had been my dream. But even for me, the transition was complicated. I knew how to draw but I didn’t know how to have a career as an artist. I learned, mostly, by talking to many, many established artists, who helped me in numerous practical ways. Do you have a dream? Is there something you have always wanted to do? What are you waiting for?
Lucy Rose Fischer is an award-winning Minnesota artist, author and researcher. Signed copies of her new book, “I’m New at Being Old,” are available at ww.temunapress.com. Visit online at www.lucyrosedesigns.com and you can contact her at [email protected]