Getting older is a kind of traveling, only it is a traveling in time rather than to exotic places. Maybe it comes down to the metaphor that life is a journey. As Basho said, “Even the years wander on/...Each day is a journey, and the journey itself is home.” This journey in time moves across inner and outer landscapes. It is a a journey that circles as much as it travels in a straight line. I’d have to say the best aspect of getting older is gaining a traveler’s perspective and ability to “go with the flow,” to embrace the adventure and be open to side trips.
Perspective calms the worried and impatient mind. Some familiarity with the rhythms of creativity helps during those periods when one is traveling through the desert or lost in a land of grey clouds. The creative process requires a curious blend of intention and receptivity, of knowing and not knowing what you are doing and where you are going.
I used to say that writing is one of the few activities I know that doesn’t get easier with practice but now I think that is a bit glib. Writing may not get easier but the fact that you have stayed with some difficult projects to the end (certainly not all of them--how many books have you written is a different question than how many books have you published) does build confidence. It only seems impossible (as in my case, to write a book about something as paradoxical and elusive as beauty) but it is not completely impossible. Each book is difficult in a new and interesting way!
I used to think that one of the best parts of getting older is not caring what other people think.
Except I sometimes still care what other people think more than I want to. Being a woman from a mid-sized town in a relatively unpopulated, homogenous Midwestern state creates a sensitivity to the community’s standards and rules: how much weirdness is tolerated? Being different can feel less safe away from the anonymity of the big cities on the East and West Coasts. Add Jewish ancestors who perished in pogroms to the mix, and I accept that I may tend to be more vigilant, sensitive to others’ opinions, and alert to danger than I need to be. Living in Berkeley among so many creative and independent spirits, I am free to occasionally feel a bit conservative or to exclaim “I am from Omaha!”
I am writing this piece in Seattle. I am here for the opening of my art exhibit, Sight & Insight, which features recent monoprints, collographs and paintings. As a young writer, I read writers I respected deeply insisting that one couldn’t be both a writer and artist, you would end up a dilettante; it was essential to choose. Over time I have learned about lineages and cultures which had traditions of poet-painters, troubadours, and griots. In the last decade I have seen the world open up to young artists experimenting in multiple art forms and creating multi media work beyond anything I dreamed. Even journalists now need to expand their skills and be fluent in print, video, and photography. In the last six months as I have been immersed in printmaking, I am more aware than ever how I love language, and I love spending time in the silence of art making. Sometimes I feel like my paintings with their bowls and ladders, leaf people and birds are my best poems.
Finally, personally, one of the great joys at this point in my life is having the kind of relationship that works for the two of us rather than trying to fit ourselves to some cultural idea of what a relationship is supposed to look like. It has been quite a journey to grow into the person I am now and open to relationship that honors solitude and intimacy, that includes (grand)children even though I didn’t have children myself.
About J. Ruth
Causes J. Ruth Gendler Supports
Poets in the Schools
River of Words
Friends of the Earth
Doctors Withour Borders