One of the most prized possessions in our house in an inlayed and framed sheet of first-day issue Marilyn Monroe United States Postage stamps. Of course, like many of my age, I was a Marilyn fan, but that is not the reason why she is hanging in an honored place on my office wall. The reason has more to do with my interest in how seniors can still be productive and valued contributors to our society.
The artist who created the stamp is a senior gentleman I am honored to call a friend. Unlike many seniors I feature in this series, he doesn’t ever call on me for help, and I would be relatively useless to him anyway. He does his work on a major Apple system and is much more fluent on it that I will ever be. His office is in an unattached little building alongside his house. We call it a casita. From the outside, his house and its casita look just like any of the other track homes in southern California. But inside, it is the work studio of a recognized artist. In this little casita, he has produced many of the commemorative stamps that you have used to send mail. Just looking around at the pictures on his walls is like being in a mini-museum.
He seldom has to make the long cross-country trip because most of his commissions are via e-mail and the Internet. So he can sit in the casita of his nominal retirement home in warm southern California and e-mail his product to the freezing colleagues in Washington D.C. Not a bad life.
While he has been involved in graphics and computers longer than the other examples of senior creativity that I have presented, he did not really get into the swing of stamp design until reaching an age when most people are looking forward to bridge or fishing. And the field is not without controversy. I once took him to task over a recent commemorative stamp in which the honored hero stood facing the camera with an empty hand. By coincidence, I happened to know that in the original picture on which the stamp was based, and in real life, the hero held a lit cigarette. My friend’s response was surprising. I had hit a nerve. “We can’t win! I get hit by the anti-smoking lobby if I leave it in, and I get hit by the history buffs if I take it out! What do they want? Anyway, I didn’t do that one, but I’ve had the same complaint. It happens all the time.” Every profession has its trials.
Since I am a contrarian by nature, he and I have had interesting conversations about the relative values of Adobe Photoshop versus Corel Photo-Paint, which I use. Like the kindly professional he is, he tolerates my quaint backwardness in part because he knows I am not in his league, however, he did seem surprised to learn that my program accepts Adobe-compatible plug-ins, and that I had upgraded by adding several neat toys. He likes to swap information like that.
What else is unusual about this creative senior? Well, he has a completely restored ancient Citroen – the type that has flat sides and arched profile – that he uses to drive to the nearby mall.
I’ve not seen a single rocking chair in his house. So much for stereotypes of seniors!
Why should I feature such a person when this series is nominally about helping seniors become computer literate? He is already there.
The answer is simple. Most articles discuss the issues we find in tutoring or trying to help seniors become at ease with the capabilities of the modern computers and Internet. Here is an example of a success. The man is not a computer guru. He is not a computer geek. He is an artist who uses his machine to create pictures that are seen by more people in more places than any other successful artist I know. Much of what he does he taught himself, and he did it because the results are better are more satisfying than the old way of doing it, not just because he wanted to become computer literate. The results speak for themselves. Millions of his pictures are printed and used by millions of people. Some even stop to look at their stamps and admire the workmanship. Some, like me, frame and save the results. Most of us can only imagine how satisfying that must be to have that kind of effect on so many people.
Very few of the seniors who become active computer users will have this kind of success and recognition. If I could contribute to just one, that would be a pleasure, but we can hope.
For more in-depth tips on tutoring seniors, see the complete tutorial here. I also have posted a tutorial on elementary decision theory for those who might question a physician’s diagnosis (important for seniors) or anti-terrorist activities (important for everyone) but haven’t had the framework to analyze the data. That tutorial can be found here.