At 63 years old, I retired and relocated from California to Oregon with my husband, who was soon to retire. This would be the city we both live in for the rest of our lives and we would be closer to our daughter.
And then the COVID pandemic began in earnest.
Our move began five days after the official shelter-in-place order was declared across much of the country.
Everything had either shut down or slowed to a crawl. Like everyone, we had no idea what challenges the pandemic would bring. Thankfully, we remained healthy but we were in limbo. How do you get to know a city and its people when it is virtually closed for business?
We started by doing our share of hiking and exploring. I tried yoga on a regular basis. We paddled our canoe around some new waterways when the weather was good. I even got inspired enough to paint and hang a huge fake Rothko on a bare wall in our new family room. No, I am not an artist, but that didn’t stop my creative process!
Still, something was missing. Everyone was a stranger and we were all keeping our distance. The only people we talked to during the week were the cashiers at the grocery store. They truly became our best friends.
My husband was working full time, albeit remotely. So although he was home, I was on my own all day, every day, with Zoom as my primary means of communication with the outside world. It was lonely and suffocating. I had to do something. Something meaningful. Like so many others at the time, I was feeling incredibly trapped. I needed to feel a sense of connection in order to feel like this was home.
I suppose I could have set goals for myself. But it’s not my style. I find the prospect paralyzing. Instead, I live under my unspoken mantra that resembles: “Keep your eyes and ears open and take advantage of opportunities that appeal to you as you find them.”
I kept searching.
A friend of mine who teaches for Second City in Chicago hosted Zoom classes in storytelling and improv. We would write stories each week and share them with this small group in the safe virtual space we created together. It has been a delightful creative outlet. But it is not local and we don’t connect except during class.
I still kept searching.
This same friend told me about a creative writing group she has worked with that is based in my city of Portland. I attended a weekend workshop and enjoyed it very much. I may go back again sometime. But once again, it felt like a one-off, not an opportunity to connect long-term.
Next I found a Theatrical Jazz dance class that I love. It sparks joy for me so I will continue to take that class for as long as I can. But I haven’t felt it helping me build a sense of community. In class, we rarely talk, and what little time people have before or after class has not led to much connection.
I already knew that lasting friendships are most likely to develop when I’m doing something I enjoy, with others, where there is a certain amount of structure and a regular meeting schedule, where talking is part of the process. Like book clubs or certain volunteer positions. But so far, each of my efforts lacked some piece of this puzzle.
Finally, I decided to try a small, in-person acting class. This class is ongoing, with about eight participants, from 20 to 80 years of age and at various levels of expertise, some of whom have been meeting together for 30 years. We meet weekly and spend two hours together, doing acting exercises and scenes, getting feedback and sharing our ideas. Sometimes we all go out after class for a bite or a drink. Sometimes we meet off site for a birthday celebration. Sometimes we practice with one another during the week. It all provides opportunities to make solid connections in different ways.
We are generous with our feedback, and we all have useful tips for improvement. Just watching the others perform is so inspiring and there is so much I learn from them as they work through a scene week after week, the realizations they discover, the insights they work with, the questions they ask. It is taking a subject matter – the human experience – which, as a researcher, I have spent a lifetime codifying and measuring and trying to influence – and turning it on its head. Now I am submerging into the murky depths of consciousness, staying open to what comes forward, and letting that guide me in my interactions with my partners on stage. It is an act of receiving and responding, rather than an act of purposeful investigation.
Do I expect to land a fabulous role at my age? No. I’m not even sure I will do all that many auditions. I love this new process of discovery and it is why I am still doing this one whole year later. I do not have a goal of “becoming” an actor. But I found something I really enjoy doing, for the sake of learning, and experiencing what that process entails.
What I did find is that I am now part of a tiny little community of people whom I cherish. I already had my family, and a sense of security. What I was missing in this new place and at this age was a community where we explore something together that we find engaging.
It turns out that, at least for now, this is enough. Being on this path with them has made all the difference. I have no idea where this path will take me, but if I know one thing, it is that the joy is in the journey and it now feels like home.
Bonnie Scott is a retired research Psychologist living in the Pacific Northwest. Her work centered on evaluating and improving educational programs and social services for youth, especially underserved youth. She finds much of her joy these days in family, puppies, water activities, dancing, writing, theater work, humor, color, and surprise. You may contact her at email@example.com.