For over 35 years, I was immersed in a — generally speaking — wonderful place. A place of learning, a place of teaching, a place where diverse generations exchanged their thoughts and aspirations. A place where the young and the not-so-young conversed and smiled at each other, as it should be. The University atmosphere, at its best, can be idyllic. Almost unreal.

I have written and talked about retiring and then returning to the off-campus community. I have talked about the challenges that imply a re-entrance into an atmosphere that is less accepting of “the other,” where simple communications between people are more complicated.

While at the University, I had an average of 90 students per semester. Some teachers have more, some have less. Every semester was a new adventure, as I tried to make the students as comfortable as possible, hoping that they could “find their voices” and dare to be creative. 

Generally, I believe that I was listened to with respect and that my relationship with the students was mutually satisfying. In spite of our age differences. 

After retirement, as I get older, I feel as if I have entered into a new, more difficult chapter in my life. There is no university organization behind my creativity. There are no 90 students waiting for me in a well-lit, comfortable space. 

I have had to rediscover my place in the community. To reinvent, or to reclaim, my off-campus creative power. At an age that some call “advanced,” although everything seems to diminish! It is a new challenge.

Illustration: Bruno Ferreira

Recently, I have been meeting and speaking with a few of my older artist friends. I am especially interested in exchanging thoughts and aspirations with those men and women who are in their late 50s, 60s, 70s, early 80s and, if I am lucky, in their 90s. 

I am not disinterested in speaking with younger ones, but, for the time being, us OG’s need to connect and try to make sense of the changes that aging brings to our lives. 

I will share examples of people who were (or are) “Alive and Active,” the title of this column:

A woman, upon turning 80 years young (the way she used to say) picks up painting. She becomes an excellent artist. After a long career as a Physical Education teacher. Today, her words of encouragement still resonate with me. She was my mother.

A man, barely past his first 80 years of age, climbs on his relatively small motorcycle (“I can’t get on my Harley anymore, compadre! Too heavy!”) and — once again — crosses the Andes mountains. From Chile to Argentina…and back! He is indeed my compadre, René Castro, a well-known Chilean artist and former Director of Mission Gráfica, at the Mission Cultural Center. Today, he lives in Chile and next year, the prestigious Chilean Museum of Contemporary Art is hosting a solo exhibit of his work. This “veterano” is busy! “Vivo y activo.”

Two weeks ago, I marveled as a seventy-something man who produced and performed Peter Brook’s adaptation of “The Tempest,” by William Shakespeare. He did the voices for all seven characters in that adaptation! Younger artists stood or sat by, playing some Balinese music, singing, or simply passing some water to that man, whose voice was being severely tested.  He is my friend and sometimes collaborator, Shadow Master Larry Reed. The performance took place at Noah Valley Square, on Upper 24th Street. ¡Vivo y Activo!

Yesterday I called the artist and cultural activist Lorraine García Nakata, a former member of the iconic Sacramento-based artist group “The Royal Chicano Air Force.” She regaled me with a long list of her current artistic endeavors. We made plans for future collaborations. She is also swimming the waters of “The New Fifties,” as we, “grown folks” over 70, have learned that these energies emanating from us at this time in our lives are called. ¡Viva y Activa!

Myself? Well, in a couple of weeks I will go to Veracruz, México, for the launching of my first  book of poetry. An international collaboration with some artists from that Mexican port…although they are much younger than me, or any of the aforementioned artists. 

Then, on Dec. 11, Sunday, at 4pm, my book will be made available at Medicine for Nightmares, the bookstore located at 3036 24th Street in San Francisco.

Another friend, Francisco Ferrer, a few years younger than the above-mentioned wonder artists, — although he is no “Pollo de primavera” or “Spring chicken,” for the Spanish-challenged — is busy putting together a collaborative musical recording of his songs. ¡Vivo y Activo!

With Francisco Ferrer, we are busy imagining and creating a new group. By now, perhaps you can guess the name of it? Yes! Like the title of this column, it will be called “Vivos y Activos” “Alive and Active.” The event of Dec. 11, at Medicine for Nightmares will be the first event co-sponsored by “Vivos y Activos.”

After we launch that new group, we do plan on connecting with younger folks. In fact, that is, perhaps, one of our most urgent tasks: to build a creative bridge between generations. 

We are not forgetting about you, young ones! We need each other.