Business Musings: The Aging Writer

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This past week, I had a fascinating text exchange with one of my very best friends. We have known each other for more than forty years. We met in college—and no, this friend isn’t Kevin J. Anderson. This is another friend. We worked in different professions, but we’ve been at each other’s side, either physically or virtually, for decades now.

He’s retired now. I met him while he was a late-returning undergraduate, looking for a new career. Then marched beside him through the milestones, from getting an advanced degree through marriages and divorces (his and mine), children (his), successes, failures, and the health challenges that we’ve both suffered over the years.

We talked about the life trajectory this week, because my one class per semester at UNLV keeps bringing up bits of the past. This week, I watched a couple of students bond on a project. Over the past month or two, I watched them get to know each other and slowly become each other’s support system. Whether that lasts another forty years—or even six months—I don’t know. But they’re working on it.

I’ve seen a few other friendships grow too. These kids are just beginning to figure out who they are deep down. Watching that discovery is great. I think I finally understand why my father, a college professor, got so inspired by his students. I’m seeing it in real time.

But my friend and I also discussed age. He has one of those time-markers—children—that I don’t have. So it’s easier for me to pretend that I’m the same as I was in my forties (I’m not; I’m healthier) or that time really hasn’t passed—not unless I look at my hands, and see how they’re aging. They don’t look like mine anymore. They have the same short stubby fingers that my grandmother’s hands had, and now I’m starting to get that same web of lines that she had.

Occasionally, articles hit me hard as well. One, a Buzzfeed clickbait piece, said, You’ll Never Guess Who Is In Their Mid-Sixties! And I thought: Sure, I would, followed by…Crap! I’m nearly to my mid-sixties.

That was a bit earth-shattering in the weirdest of ways. The societal message about growing older, which means in U.S. parlance that I’m becoming less relevant. My friend mentioned that he has a lot of time now because he’s retired, and he struggles with that, although he doesn’t want to return to his old job. It intrigued him thirty years ago, and left him battered by the end. He doesn’t want to return and he doesn’t want to reinvent himself…yet. I suspect he might, though.

It gets worse: I’m female, and the message in American society is that older women are not beautiful or attractive or even interesting. Except that there’s this undercurrent of Don’t mess with grandma, implying that women my age, particularly in non-white cultures, have a lot of strength and power.

I was raised by a weak alcoholic woman who constantly told me that I would have to bend my life to my husband’s (as she did) and who got progressively weaker as she got older. I became quite good at negotiating hospitals because my alcoholic parents had to be taken to the ER with startling regularity (don’t ask). I learned, as a teen, how to ask the right questions and get them in and out quickly.

The survival skills you acquire…

Anyway, my role models, except for my grandmother who was 69 when I was born, were not very good ones. And even my beloved grandmother wasn’t a good role model on aging. She would often go to the hospital herself and then we’d get a call: Hurry! We think she’s going to die! She didn’t. She outlived my father, a few grandchildren, and at least two great-grandchildren, dying years after her hundredth birthday.

For decades I held her up as a beacon, but she was lacking in a few other areas as well. She hadn’t had a career. She’d been a housewife and not the best one, since she really couldn’t cook. (She could bake.) She didn’t have a career to fall back on or one that interested her or kept her active. Neither did my mother. My father retired at 75 and died within six months, just like his father who, at age 69, retired in January and was dead by March.

My brother was deathly afraid that when he retired, he’d follow the Rusch male tradition and leave the planet a few months later. Thankfully, he lived another 15 years after his retirement and might have made it longer if it weren’t for the sacrifices he made for others during Covid.

Of course, no one else in my entire family had a career in the arts. Not a one. My mentors in the writing field were…mentors. They were people I knew and, in some cases, cared deeply about, but not people I observed in everyday life. I knew how long they lived and I also knew that almost all of them (with one exception) kept writing until the day they died.

Knowing that…and seeing that…are two different things.

I turned sixty during Covid, and then pretended that I hadn’t. I stuffed that birthday aside, and the next, and the next…during which I got sick, for the first time ever on one of my own birthdays. I had weird health problems this year, maintenance stuff that required minor surgery or some changes in habits.

Dean had a serious health crisis this past year as well. He’s ten years older and remarkably healthy, but he has age-related problems too. He said to me, in the waiting room of our third medical professional’s office last June (two for me; one for him), that we had better get used to this: seeing doctors was our future.

And that sent me into a mental funk. The word “future” and “doctors” became a nightmarish vision of all those ERs of my teen years, carting unwilling and belligerent adults around, driving without a license to get them to and from some kind of help that they didn’t want and ultimately never took.

I suddenly saw the next decade or two as a long slow decline with only death at the end of it. Most people would say I came face to face with my mortality, but that’s not really true. A few near-death experiences of my own, as well as losing my high school best friend to breast cancer at 36 and other friends throughout the past three decades, made it really clear that death comes for us all whenever it’s ready and not a moment later.

I couldn’t quite figure out what was going on, besides the age. I wrote less during Covid and just after, something I discussed in a post called “Assessing Pandemic Damage.” Also, a writing project has been holding my muse hostage for almost two years now, as I madly write to get to the end of a series. (This has happened before, with the Anniversary Day saga in the Retrieval Artist series, and I’m sure it will happen again.)

I’m able to write other things while this project continues, but not other big projects…which sent my subconscious into a different tizzy, couched in terms of aging.

I write in a lot of series. Some are open-ended, but a few aren’t. I know how they will end. I have a book in mind for one of my series that takes place about a decade after the death of my main protagonist. I want to get to that, even though it will probably piss off readers.

Stupidly, as I contemplated the years ahead, I calculated how many series I have, how many other possible novels I’ve already thought of, and some vague writing projects that I’ve wanted to do for twenty years now…and had the I better write faster thought. Because I was afraid I’d die before I got to all of them.

I figured out that I am in the last third of my life, and that I’d better hop to so I can complete everything. That added to the doctors/decline panic I was already having. It didn’t matter how many discussions Dean and I had about realistic time. If this is the last third of my life and provided there is no cognitive decline, well then, thirty years is damn near (not quite) as long as I have been with him.

Wow, has a lot changed in that period of time. Wow, have I written a lot. Wow, am I underestimating what I can do.


Those conversations weren’t helping. I intellectually knew that I had more than enough time to write everything and more, even with illness and life events. I had had more problems before I moved to Las Vegas, years when I had migraines 21 out of 28 days every month, and I still managed to get a lot done.

But nothing was getting through to that weird panic about the last third of my life. Then Dean and I had a very serious discussion about role models on the way to the second WNBA finals game on Wednesday. He pointed out that I really had no role models growing up—all that stuff I put above were things he helped me put together.

And then that game gave me a gift.

Midway through the game, two women helped an elderly woman into the nosebleed seats. Seriously, our seats are so high up that people who are afraid of heights have trouble climbing the very steep staircase.

These two women—obviously relatives of the older lady—helped her get up the stairs, but primarily, she did it on her own power. She was ninety-eight years old and fierce. She wanted to see her team in the finals.

She stayed until the final minutes, when the other two women—probably her granddaughters—insisted she leave before the crowd did. Fortunately for her, the Las Vegas Aces were so far ahead that there was no way they could lose as she headed down those stairs.

Still, she fought. She wanted to see the game through. But they convinced her, and down she went, watching the game more than the steep stairs ahead of her.


She was going to see her team win, and she did.

At ninety-eight she had a dowager’s hump and looked a bit frail, until you saw her face. That fierceness and intelligence. That determination. She was in good enough shape to take the stairs six times (there was a pit stop).

She needed to see something that no one could imagine in 1925, the year she was born. I do not know her history. I couldn’t tell from her size if she ever had athletic ambitions, not that it mattered. She had no hope of fulfilling them born as she was in those years.

But she saw something amazing—a championship team, two female coaches who were as fierce as the woman before me, and some players (on both teams) who are so great they could go toe-to-toe with most NBA players and beat them.

As I threaded my way out of the arena, I saw a lot of women wearing Aces jerseys with the words “Title IX” on them. Title IX, for those of you outside of the U.S., is the law that was passed in 1972 that prevents sex-based discrimination in education. It sounds straightforward, but it wasn’t.  A lot of lawsuits happened to guarantee that women’s sports received the same funding as men’s sports in any school (from elementary forward) that receives federal funding.

I am too old to have benefited from that law, but those women on the court aren’t. They have opportunities because of it.

And they—all of them—are as much of a gift for me as the elderly woman who climbed those stairs with such determination. She is an example of what is possible going forward; they are examples of a world that neither she nor I could have imagined when we were young women.

Somehow, that conversation with Dean, the elderly woman, and the basketball games all coalesced into a change in perspective for me.

I can go into a slow decline because I have some ancient idea of what being in my mid-sixties means. Or I can live my life, day to day, not panicking about all that I will never complete by my death, but just getting things done.

I think the main difference between losing a friend at 36 and losing friends at 63 is this thought: At 36, I didn’t think I could be next—even though I could have been. Car accidents, cancer (like she had), some other issues I never considered might have taken me out.

But when you lose someone (lots of someones) at 63, it’s quite easy to see that I could be next.

What I had forgotten, in my narrow focus on mortality, was that nothing remains the same. Title IX changed life for women everywhere, not just in sport. But sport is where it is the most visible here in the U.S. That law came down 51 years ago—within my lifetime.

When we owned Pulphouse Publishing over thirty years ago, Dean insisted on having a lot of photos taken. These are the good old days, he would say…and you know what? He was wrong. We had better times ahead.

Sure, we had rougher times too. But the world we’re in now, with independent publishing, the ability to write, sell, and distribute our own books, is infinitely better. The life we’re living now, even with its preponderance of doctor visits, is better as well.

Aging is not a matter of perspective. We all age and change, every day of our lives. We bear the scars of our life—some of them physical, some of them mental. We also bear the triumphs.

So, changing my perspective won’t change the fact that I am creeping up on my mid-sixties.

Changing my perspective will help in a different way.

As I said, aging is not a matter of perspective, but aging well is a matter of perspective.

I can drink my way into a miserable future, like my mother did, rarely leaving the house. Or I can continue to lead a full life, believing that many things are possible.

Not everything. I will never play championship basketball on a national scale—unless it’s for seniors and I decide to dedicate myself to it. I’m not going to, though. I have books to write.

A lot of books to write.

And a changing world ahead. One I should embrace, like my nameless 98-year-old role model, rather than one that I should hide from and succumb to.

I could die tomorrow. We all could. I won’t know what the last third of my life is until the day of my death (and maybe not then).

So I need to stop worrying about the downsides of the future and embrace the fact that—if I live as long as my wonderful grandmother—I still have forty years left.

Hmmm. That means I won’t hit the last third of my life until I’m 68. That’s five more years than I thought.

And oh, I didn’t know Dean forty years ago.

So imagine what I can accomplish with 40 more years. I’m not sure I can.

Except, maybe, in vague terms….that include the words a lot.


The eagle-eyed among you have noticed that this website is different. I finally have a new theme, and I’ve cleaned up the site some. More cleaning to come. But first, I have promotion to do for the Holiday Spectacular Kickstarter. There are a lot of rewards for writers, but head over to see some of the merchandise too. We partnered with our artist Bob Giordano to have these festive pieces. And of course, the calendar of stories and the books. So take a peek.

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“Business Musings: The Aging Writer,” copyright © 2023 by Kristine Kathryn Rusch. Image at the top of the blog copyright © 2023 by  Kristine K. Rusch

15 thoughts on “Business Musings: The Aging Writer

  1. I look at my hands, and they look familiar, even though the fingers have taken some odd turns at the joints, and the skin doesn’t fit as snugly as it used to.
    I’m 72, retired and trying to find time for all the tasks I want to accomplish.
    – writing
    – ham radio operation
    – crafts
    – spending with the children, grandchildren, and great-grands
    – FINALLY having enough time for all that reading I’ve so long wanted to tackle
    – gardening
    – traveling
    – ‘setting’ on the deck and just enjoying the day
    I know there is likely time enough. My family is filled ancestors living till their 90s and 100s, and active, both physically and mentally.

  2. Hi, Kris! I loved this column and can definitely relate. I am 61 years old and married for the first time last year at 60. Everyone is shocked that I am still married after a year, haha. But it lets me know that I have at least one more chapter left in me. I started losing loved ones in 2009, and that has been hellish. I lot my best friend when we were both 50, and my husband’s older brother was killed in a car accident just 3 months ago. Life is full of shocks. But we press on because there is more to do, and maybe even life beyond this. I never had children, either, but I’m on my third long term cat, and I know you know what a comfort they are. Take care!

  3. I am 65 and my wife is 74 … and we’re still firmly convinced that we’re ‘just getting started’, but occasionally our aches and pains do trip us up.
    Recently we adopted a black cat, sight unseen from a family who wanted her to go to a ‘good home’. What they neglected to mention was that she was pregnant. When we saw her we both knew she’d be better off with us.
    Fast forward to two days ago (Tuesday) when she presented up with six new adittions to our family, all as black as her. They will probably be with us for a good portion of the rest of our lives.
    When we look at those tiny black fluffballs, the years and aches and pains fall away, and allis possible again. 😀

  4. I hear ya, all. Currently in and out of the hospital for my dear 96-y-old mother, who had a long and rich career, but sinking into the fog of old age. I’m not writing much those days because, I’m often with her and my heart is broken.
    But it gives me a strong motivation to keep running and writing and trying new things.
    Be all well & writing !

  5. Kris, I’m 5 years behind you and making good progress on some joint replacements. It’s better, but I’ve gotten out of shape while on crutches and a good workout can wipe me out (this is where you and Dean are serious role models.)
    I borrow from you and Dean a lot. We live in a city, and borrowing a page from your playbook, I try to get out and “get some culture.” I get exercise, I write even when I still feel a bit scatter-brained by the fact that “Oh, wow, I can walk again!”
    There is no telling now long I’ll live. My parents didn’t win the health lottery and are no longer with us, but my grandparents left in their late nineties.
    The way to long healthspan, at least according to latest studies, is to make ourselves uncomfortable on purpose. Doing things we don’t like to do apparently enhances neuroplasticity. One researcher suggests doing one or two “micro-sucks” every day, whether it be delaying pleasure or working on a difficult task a bit longer. So that’s what I am doing now.
    In addition, the whole “as adults age, their ability to learn decreases” seems to be a fallacy (I’m learning Mandarin, just because. It’s as hard as it was to learn English back in 1980.) Apparently, our culture is structured to instruct the youngsters, but not the older people – there is a built-in bias in all the cognitive studies. Most old people lose brain mass due to lack of stimulation, not due to some inherent aging process. A study group of retirees gained mass by doing certain things as compared to control groups (see, entry from Oct 9, 2023, “Increase tenacity and willpower.”) Nowadays, people don’t retire the way they used to. They reinvent themselves and have to learn in the process.
    The best part? There is a lot to be curious about. Curious people live longer and do more. I don’t know where I will be in ten or twenty years, or until I change my dimensional zip code. As long as I remain curious and engaged in learning new things, I’ll be okay. I admit I’m a bit stressed over having started writing late, but as long as I stick with the plan, I will keep having fun.

  6. I am not just saying this, but you and Dean are my role model. I am only ten years younger than you, but your ability to turn your health around and run marathons is really amazing. And of course your writing careers only becoming more dynamic and exciting as you’ve gotten older.
    Six years ago I had a major health setback and it has been slow going figuring out what works for me. And I have kept you and your healthy lifestyle and active and happy (most important) life.
    Thank you. From the bottom of my heart.

  7. Kris, my heart attack three years ago started me down a similar thought path – especially as my mother died of a heart attack at 76 and I was 72 at the time. I’m still dealing with it. BHA (before heart attack) I felt 40. Now, not so much. And as hubby and I are aging, it’s one doctor visit after another, or so it seems, and too many losses. So thank you for sharing this – I’m reminded yet again that a change of perspective is needed, or maybe just a change of attitude.
    And just by the way – a few years ago I told you that I thought you were aging so beautifully. I stand by that!

  8. This reminded me of my own moment of realization. Same kind of fragile mother. Father with declining health. I saw a miserable future until I got a job at a ski resort. People over 75 got a free lift ticket. I worked at a mountain that was mostly expert runs. I gave away several tickets every week. It made me realize that being old didn’t automatically make one infirm. If people in their 70’s and 80’s were skiing black diamond runs, that meant I could enjoy those later years, too. It’s liberating when you can see a better future.

  9. The things you shared really resonated with me. I’m 65. My mother died at 70. Even though she had way more health issues than I do (COPD, lung cancer, smoked till the day she died) I still have this irrational dread of turning 70 and wonder if I’ll make it past that. It makes no logical sense, but it’s something I fight.
    I am trying to take better care of myself and increase my odds. Still, I wonder if 70 will be an interesting year to live through.

    1. Both of my mother’s parents died at 57. She struggled mightily that year, but ultimately made it to 79. Biology is not destiny. I think you’ll be fine. (But 70 is a milestone, imho. A good one, I think.)

  10. Regarding you post on the Aging Writer,
    Wow- I personally found this post to be one of the most insightful things you have ever written. It sparked a continuous loop of an imaginary conversation in my head:
    Me: “Get out of my head- that’s what I was thinking!”
    You: “Read on fellow life traveler.”
    I retired two months ago after 43 years of military and government related service. From submarines, to other Naval vessels, to living in different lands, to continuously learning new skills, things were good. But it was a young person’s game and I needed to retire.
    Now two months after retirement, I am facing the same thoughts as you professed. I am 63, starting out writing stories (something I always wanted to do), and thinking about my expiration date. My father died at 55; I reflect on that often as a yardstick. I tend to ignore the fact that my mother is still a very young 95 and going strong.
    Two weeks ago my first grandson was born and he and my daughter have cemented my legacy.
    So I have, mostly, stopped worrying about the passage of days, and begun to create stories from some of those ideas I find on scraps of paper I stuffed in shoe boxes (and in shoes!) over the years. And as 20 words turn into 10,000, I hope there are some good stories in there for others. Because I am convinced, my expiration date is millions of words away.
    Thank you Kris for your thoughts on this subject which we must all face, and for your phenomenal career to this point. May the next third of your career be as excellent.

  11. Regarding your life thirds:
    Towards the end of last millenium I came across a prediction that life expectancy in 2050 could be one hundred and twenty. I came to realisation that though I had just entered my forties my father’s father had passed in his ninety-third year, so it seemed a little early to be wishing my life away since I would still be under a century then. Every day since could have been my last – and my father has now passed in his ninety-seventh year – but middle (journeyman) forty still seems a decent approximation if I must categorize my current phase of life; which like yourself is downhill of forty through eighty in planetary years.

  12. Thanks for your thoughts and perspective, Kris. At age 76 my writing time is likely shorter than yours. But I feel like I’m just starting, even though I’ve been writing one thing or another since I was in elementary school. One thing is for sure, however, life is a grand adventure. I’m thankful I’ve lived to see today.

  13. Hey, I just bought a young horse. I’ll be 66 in a couple of weeks. This horse is 8 years old, green-broke, and at least half-Arabian if not full (he was sold to me as a Quarab–Quarter Horse/Arabian cross but I don’t see much Quarter Horse in him). He’s spirited but sane, and…after three months of working with him and riding five days a week, I’m in much better shape than I was. The old mare was just getting too sore and tired to be ridden–we went from three days a week to two days.

    I…suspect there are more horse shows in my future. This horse is a training project. Some people would think that I’m crazy to take on a project horse in my sixties, especially a sparky young Arabian. But I think he’s just about perfect for me. And…riding more frequently not only is helping my problem hips, but I’m toning up and have lost ten pounds without changing anything else. Plus writing is starting to perk up again. I composed a lot of stories on the old mare’s back. I can hardly wait to see what comes from riding this boy. I’ve already gotten some good perspectives on an equine character in a work-in-progress.

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