mid-life musings

I’ve been musing about this quite a bit lately, not just this morning. The age thing. A quick look at my driver’s license confirms it — I’m turning 60 years old on Monday. There was a time, and it doesn’t seem all that long ago, when 60 seemed way off in the distant future. Suddenly that distant future is here. Now what?

What do I have to show for these first six decades? Materially, not much. I’ve never been very smart about money. It’s probably safe to say most guys my age have been far wiser financially than I have. They devoted themselves to careers, built up a nest egg, and have some degree of comfort to look forward to. I’ve never been that interested in money.  I’ve never been willing to sell all my time to someone in exchange for the security of a paycheck and a pension. I’ve always valued experiences and trying different things and spending time in wild places more than money, and I’ve had a life full of that. In that sense I’m one of the richest people I know. I wouldn’t trade places with anyone.

I’ve done many different jobs over the years, but for the past thirty years or so my main trade has been as an offset press operator. When I needed to put some money together I’d sign on with a print shop, run the small presses, shoot the layouts on a process camera, develop the films, strip the flats, make the plates, and run the jobs. It was good work, jobs were easy to find, and it paid reasonably well. That’s all changed over the past several years with the advent of the digital age, and guys like me are quickly becoming a relic of the past. I’ve stopped in to several shops to inquire about work and the owners just shake their heads — some of them haven’t run their presses in weeks. There’s simply little demand for what I do. That leaves only one option. Learn something new.

I also find myself getting more jealous of my time as I get older. I’m a lot crankier about what I’ll give my time to. For me, the future lies in photography and blogging. I need to make that work. Whether I do that by concentrating my efforts on this blog and making it interesting again, or by starting a few different blogs on different interests I have remains to be seen. On one hand I’m a little leery of relying on only one site, but at the same time I don’t want to spread myself so thin I can’t keep it all going. Either way I’ll have to treat it as a more or less full-time job and either make it work or die trying.

I can always flip burgers or some such thing now and then to keep some income coming in, but I don’t want that to eat up all my time and energy. I need to find a place to live. I’m still staying with my ex and my daughter, but that can’t go on much longer. Tensions are growing. These days I’m doing almost all my blogging at the library. I can live in my car for awhile if I need to, but that’s not a long term option. I’m not posting this simply to grumble and vent. I’m at one of those proverbial forks in the road, and any thoughts and ideas and possibilities and insights you may have are most welcome. They’re more than welcome. I need them.

What does all this mean? Not much, except that I’d better get my ass in gear and make this incredible thing called the internet work for me. I’ve had some minor success with it over the last couple of years, but I need to kick it up a few notches. I have much to learn for the second half of my life.

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27 thoughts on “mid-life musings”

  1. Your trade reminds me of the blacksmith trade 100 years ago. No town or community could survive (for hundreds upon hundreds of years) without a competent ‘smith. Come turn of the 20th century and in the big cities, blacksmiths are almost unheard of thanks to the ability to mass produce and the easy accessibility of those mass produced goods. By the end of WWII, I’d be willing to bet that you’d be hard pressed to find a working ‘smith in any town bigger than a few hundred people.
    In a matter of 50 years or so, a trade that had flourished for centuries was gone…

    Sorry for the historical interlude, but you merely gave me the opportunity to share some perspective with you.

    Some of the old time ‘smiths strung things out for awhile by working on farm equipment and even some of the early cars – and those that didn’t adapt to the new times failed miserably.

    Long story short, keep on learning, and you’ll be just fine. When that stops, you’re done!

    Hang tough, do what you love doing and things always seem to have a way of working out.

    1. I appreciate your historical interlude Derrick. It’s true enough — certain trades do get squeezed out by new technologies. On the other hand new opportunities come out of those new technologies too.

      Yeah, I’ll just keep on doing my thing. Things do have a way of working out. Thanks for your thoughts.

  2. Living in Rochester, it was hard to see Eastman Kodak, the worlds leaning manufacturer of photographic film and paper, go from 60, 000 employees to 7,200 (due mostly to the digital revolution). You are not alone. How does one survive such a dramatic social change? It ain’t easy. Those who can’t (or won’t) adapt pay a high price. How you adapt is key to your survival.
    It’s a time to take inventory of your skills, needs and desires and put them to use. Sometimes we have to bite the bullet and do things we are not particularly fond of to pay the bills until something better comes along. Don’t give up hope.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Ken. I can’t even begin to imagine what kind of blow that was to Rochester.

      Things are actually going much as I visualized even before I got laid off. Mostly I need to work things a bit smarter to make it all pay off. That, and like you said, probably do a few things I’m not particularly fond of.

  3. PJ, good post.

    To me, the key to doing anything creative is being where you want to be. Maybe head to Montana for the summer, then back there for the winter. Wouldn’t be so bad. I spent half of last year camping to save money and also because I could be outdoors, where the action is. One can live pretty cheap in a tent. And it’s amazing how creative one can be w/o obstacles.

    I’ve never made money from blogging, so I have no clue how it’s done. But I do know that ebooks seem to make a little bit for some people, so maybe that would be a good thing to do. Your musings are certainly a good read, and your photos alongside would make a nice ebook.

    Just one thought…I’m sure there are many paths.

    1. Thanks for the input Chinle. Actually, going back and forth between here and Montana every few months or so is something I’m working on being able to do. That would suit me just fine.

      I appreciate your thoughts on some of these posts, but it seems to me that no one would be likely to pay for them when they can read them here for nothing. Seriously… they’re really not all that great.

  4. You know, photographers are really into printing books nowadays. Little zines are very popular. Alison Smith’s zines are quite the collector items. It seems like there might be some possibility there for you – a specialty market.

    I obviously know nothing about this. :-)

    Hang in there!


  5. Hey, pj -

    It’s Monday, so you must be 60 – Happy Birthday! I hope you have a terrific day!

    As for the forking problems (;^D) you face, I don’t have any answers, but I thought I’d point out that a number of people have created successful e- and print-books from the free posts on their blogs. In the software area, Joel Spolsky and 37 Signals have both created multiple successful books that way…

    - Jack

    1. Thanks Jack. Good to hear from you again. I guess it’s something I ought to look into. I don’t want to ignore any possible avenues.

  6. Hey…You ain’t alone on this front. Even though my situation is a little different. I left 14 years of work behind to go back to school and get ejumcated. it was worth it. A lot of people don’t really understand what that 60 year old barrier is all about. As long as you are in the library look up a little book titled: “Do What You Love and the Money Will Follow.”.
    It sure gave me a new perspective.

    I like some of your new urban photography. So as long as you are stuck in the asphalt jungle take advantage of that. You may find that it sells better than landscapes.

    Best Regards,

    1. Thanks Greg. It’s good to hear the perspective of another 60-something (I presume you are) photographer/blogger. I actually read that book years ago. It might be worth revisiting it.

      Glad you like some of my LA stuff. There could well be some possibilities with urban photography to explore. There’s certainly no shortage of subject matter to be found here…

  7. Looks like we’re all in the same boat, at least judging by the comments. I do think you’d have a certain niche well-filled in e-books, or something along those lines.

    Hope you had a great birthday.


    1. Thanks much Greg.

      I’ve never considered what I do here to be e-book worthy, but there may well be possibilities I’ve yet to even think of. I’ll have to look into it further. It might open up a whole new world to me.

  8. I read your post a few days ago, wanted to add a comment but was not sure what words to pass along.

    I think for those of us stepping into the decades of the 60s and beyond and who do not have pensions or a large nest egg, have those same thoughts. Many of us have given years of our lives to some career or vocation that did not nurture the artist within us. We are now wanting, and maybe needing, to nurture that artist. We also are wanting to enjoy life in a more relaxed mode, slow it down some, or travel, work on our art. I do not have a pension or large 401k for my retirement years, yet feel I’m also a rich man. I’m not sure I will never work but will always have something to work at and that will bring in some income. This may be more than one source.

    I found out about blogging from a friend who suggested I write about my travels as a flight attendant and and suggested I could make money from it. After looking into that idea it became apparent to me blogging was not going to nurture me but only add stress to my life. Blogging needed to be fun and enjoyable. My experience with blogging has created a larger circle of friends for me, all over the world. Blogging for income would be a step back to what I had just left.

    I wish I had words that encouraged or motivated or changed your situation but the only words I can offer are wishing you a Happy Birthday!

    1. Thank you for the thoughtful comment Monte. I tried to do photography for a living years back, doing darkroom work, copy work, shooting jobs and the like. It ended up killing my enjoyment of photography and I stopped altogether for a few years. With blogging I enjoy the challenge of trying to turn it into something that can support me. I certainly do enjoy the communication and the friendships that grow from it, but the stresses don’t trouble me. I still find the challenge very liberating.

      Your words do encourage and motivate me. I don’t need to change my situation — I just need to figure out the next steps to make it all work.

  9. When younger I always thought I’d have all the answers about who I was and what I wanted to do, or be, worked out by the time I reached the age I am now (late 50′s).

    That hasn’t turned out to be the case. I know a little more about who I am and what my values are, but I’m still looking for exactly where that fits in the greater scheme of things. I’m lucky in there’s still value in my chosen work field, computer technology, but even so many potential employers prefer those younger who more likely to be happy working for less.

    I could only suggest perhaps checking out local classes, education and retraining opportunities with the help of Pell Grants or other financial assistance programs — working a part time job if possible while setting this new life course.

    I know there are those who make money and some even a living from blogging or writing but I’ve never seen the opportunity there for myself. Still, best of luck to you and a slightly belated Happy Birthday!

    1. Thanks for your thoughts Earl.

      Classes are a good idea, and I’m going to look into them. I’m looking for part time work of course, but so far I’m having zero success with that. I’ll need to get more creative with the job search too.

      I see the possibilities and opportunities with blogging to be endless. The biggest challenge is figuring out the next steps while surviving in the meantime…

  10. I am betting that you find your way through this before long. You haven’t made it this far without developing loads of resources. When I read the suggestions about zines and e-books it struck a chord for me. I think your photography would be well suited for tapping that market. The rich new scene in LA contrasts so profoundly with your beloved Montana that it could make something wonderful happen, if you move back and forth between those worlds.

    I also agree with those who have observed that we often have to take a job that puts food on the table and use our spare time to feed our souls.

    Just the age business is enough of a challenge. It is rough when we get past that point where we can no longer kid ourselves that we are just in late middle-age. Heck, what are the odds we will live that long? I wish you hope and strength in this time of transition and discovery.

    1. Thanks Anita. Who knows what may come of it when I move back and forth between the two worlds.

      I agree too about taking a job to have some money coming in. I’m trying to find one, but the offers aren’t exactly flying in. One can only imagine the number of people looking in a place this big

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