To come to terms with her own aging, a local gerontologist wrote and illustrated a book on “being old.”
One morning when Lucy Rose Fischer was in her 50s, she looked into the bathroom mirror and saw something she’d never noticed before: a crease above her left eyebrow.
“How did this happen?” she asked herself. “Something is happening to my face.”
Fischer was surprised she had been surprised.
After all, she was an expert on aging. In her 25-year career specializing in gerontology, she studied, researched, taught and published scholarly books and articles about aging. She knew full well that aging is a process. Of course, it doesn’t happen all at once.
“But when I saw traces of my own aging, I was shocked,” she said recently.
Now 69 and retired with her husband, Mark, in St. Louis Park, she’s using her expertise in a fresh way.
Her book, “I’m New at Being Old” (Temuna Press, $19.95), uses her few well-chosen words and her whimsical illustrations to explore, as she puts it, joining “the World of Older Women.”
Fischer doesn’t present a romanticized view of aging. Life is not all sweet grandmother moments. Life also is hot flashes, forgetting names, creaky knees and evidence that young people regard old people as a different species.
With humor, the book deals with “the breakdown of movable parts.” Then there’s fear “of the beginning of the unraveling of my mind.” Fischer’s painting of a white-haired woman wrapping her hands around a hoard of marbles accompanies her message, “But, at least for now, I still have all my marbles!”
Sleep, though, is elusive. A two-page illustration of “the Sisterhood of Sleeplessness” shows neighborhood women of a certain age peering out windows under a moonlit sky.
“I’m New at Being Old” was a five-year project to write and illustrate. To keep editorial control, Fischer self-published the 70-page book and had it printed in China.
Then came the marketing, including speaking to groups of those interested in aging. Her prime audience comprises women in their 50s and 60s. She has sold more than 4,000 copies. (The book can be ordered at www.lucyrosedesigns.com.)
After a career teaching and researching aging, including at the University of Minnesota and HealthPartners Research Foundation, Fischer now devotes much of her energy to her art. When she was young, she had to decide between art and academia. Choosing the path that would provide a more reliable paycheck, she earned a doctorate in sociology.
Now she has a second career, in art: “Luminous colors spill out of me.”
She does much of her fanciful work on the inside of handblown glass bowls and vases — painting upside-down, inside-out and backward. (It’s good for the brain, she says.)
And even though she admits that “crappy” things happen with age, Fischer’s perspective is positive.
“True, I can’t remember names the way I used to,” she said. “But with age comes a richness of experience to draw on. Living long is really a privilege.”
Peg Meier is a Minneapolis-based freelance writer.