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An Artist's Journey

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Chapter 15: Nonretirement


Since business prospects had been bleak for so long I applied for early Social Security and began receiving monthly payments in February 2010. Although not enough to pay all the monthly bills, it provides a consistent and reliable level of financial support that allows me to better squeek through times of slow or no business. This is retirement for me. I still must work to maintain survival level, but not as much as I did before.

Soon two more projects came in, this time from former clients. Sherry Ellis had "That Mama is a Grouch" ready to illustrate, our second book together. Then Laura Cormack (a.k.a. Trudy C. Hart) emailed that she had a short chapter novel, "The Chance Brothers Journey into Danger", ready to go. This was Laura's sixth book with me and her first attempt at a novel after a series of picture books. It required that I learn how to format novels, and my skill set expanded. I got happily to work and both those books were completed during the first half of 2010.

In October Sherry emailed that "That Mama is a Grouch" was honored as a finalist in the Parenting/family category of the 2010 USA Book News Awards..

Grouch cover Journey cover

Although these two jobs were not referred by Createspace, both authors were using that service to self-publish, and both had been former BookSurge (now Createspace) clients. So the folks at Createspace had a good dose of recent work from me that I thought could possibly lead to future referrals.

Mom duty intensifies

Helen Berry

This year Mom, now 89, has become more confused, especially with regard to time. She can't make sense of her calendar and now calls me almost every day, sometimes two or three times, wondering where I am. The calls can be bizarre. She doesn't believe what the calendar says or what aides tell her about what day it is or when I'm coming. She can get agitated when they try to take her downstairs to dinner because she thinks I'm coming to eat with her and she wants to wait for me to get there. Other times she declines because she's not hungry. It's difficult to know how to respond. Her doctor is trying various medications to deal with the agitation and confusion. They may be helping to slow the rate of decline, but there is no cure for old age.

She still enjoys reading large-print novels, however, and her vital signs remain good. On some days she is more relaxed and alert and makes no odd phone calls. On those days I am also more at ease.


An interesting twist of fate also brought an old friend into this mix. Alexa Noble (see chapter 4), who I have known since 1975, moved into the same assisted care facility in the summer of 2009 after she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. Unable to continue to work or care for herself, she retired early from her high school teaching career and moved from her home in Texas to join her brother and mother in Tucson.

Alexa Noble in 2010

Alexa Noble 

Her 90-year-old mother had moved into the same facility a year earlier, and now her brother could look after both of them. Although both Alexa and her mother stayed in assisted living initially, they soon moved across the street to the independent living apartment complex. About twice a month I invited Alexa to join us for dinner or the family brunch that they have for residents each month. She had beaten the survival odds for people with her condition—half die by the end of the first year after their diagnosis. The continuous chemo and radiation treatments can be difficult to endure but she handled it all pretty well.

This is my primary social activity lately. I regularly see people old and not so old who are facing the end of their lives. It has given me a different perspective on what it means to be alive, and what it means to know that it will all end. I think I appreciate my continued good health and enjoy each day a little more. As Alexa has pointed out, it can all change rather suddenly. Alexa passed away in March, 2011.


Business remained almost absent through the second half of 2010, but not completely. My brother, Mick Berry, was in town to visit Mom and asked me to design a logo for his post-retirement business. He is a trained luthier and wants to start a guitar making and repair service in Rapid City, SD, when he leaves his job with the post office there.

Shop 25 card

About the same time I also heard from Laura Cormack regarding the book we had finished a few months before. She found many typos and other minor corrections after going through the sample copy that Createspace sent to her for approval. Over the next month or so we went through two rounds of corrections and twice reuploaded the book file to Createspace. We have both learned that novels require much more proofreading and correcting than picture books.

During the business lull I continued to train with graphics software and work on personal projects. In November I created a Christmas card that reflects the times we live in.

Christmas card front

Christmas card inside

In December, 2010, I turned 63 and did this self-caricature using Corel Painter. It is drawn from the imagination rather than using a mirror or photo reference, so it's how I think of and see myself at this time.

Don Berry self-caricature

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