“Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, but beautiful old people are works of art” 

-Eleanor Roosevelt

For Lack of Imagination

For Lack of Imagination

From age 46 to age 66 I ran my own business, an arty boutique in Santa Monica, CA. The ongoing conversation in my head, and with a few friends and acquaintances and, well okay, with some of my customers, coworkers, and the UPS guy, was that I had no intention of retiring. I would keep working until I couldn’t. Not for lack of money. I realize now that it was for lack of imagination! I couldn’t imagine what I’d do if I retired.

I had to DO SOMETHING after all! I am a doer, and I don’t mean workaholic. I also DO movies, swimming, reading, TV, lunch dates, travel, shopping, museum visits, restaurants, theater, and Dodger baseball – sometimes at the stadium but mostly at home on the couch.

Another reason I couldn’t imagine retiring is that I am driven to be USEFUL. Not only at work, but also to my family and friends and to the organizations I participate with.

Then I closed my beloved store “gioia” (Italian for “joy”). I don’t need to tell you what has been happening to small retail businesses. Even I shop online now, so I can’t blame my customers, right?

Eventually my friend Ann, who I often chat with in the locker room at the Y, suggested I might like doing what she does – volunteering as a docent for school groups at the Getty Center. I was intrigued, and with the museum’s permission, I showed up one morning before they opened to “shadow” Ann.

The school children who visit the Getty are from Title 1 schools, that is to say low-income families. Many have never ever entered a museum.

At one point in our tour with 2nd- graders, Ann asked the students to look for creatures and objects almost hidden in a ceramic Rococo wall clock. They excitedly raised their hands and blurted out “a dragon!” or “a monkey!” I got the picture. I would use MY imagination to enable them to use THEIR imaginations to have FUN looking closely at art. This was for me. 

I’ve been a docent for four years now. I can tell you that kids delight in swaying back and forth like the green stalks of Van Gogh’s Irises. They revel in posing like a 19th-Century marble statue of Athena in full battle mode. And they love climbing to the top level at the back of the museum to see the view of Los Angeles. It is so rewarding to hear “Whoa!” and “Wow!” from these students, most of whom have never seen this view of their city and the ocean. From up there, even the 405 Freeway is fascinating.

I’ve come to love the students, the art, the site, the ongoing art education, and the fantastic community of docents I now belong to. Who knew that all it took was a little imagination to envision myself in a new endeavor? It’s one that I hope to sustain for many years.

After that? Imagine the possibilities.


Laura Owen is a retired entrepreneur and Stanford University graduate in film studies, Laura Owen is currently a Getty docent-in-waiting - that is to say, waiting for the day when the museum will again be welcoming visitors and school groups. Meanwhile, she is enjoying reading, walking and talking with her husband Sandy, Jeopardy, old black-and-white films on TCM, sharing life with friends on Facebook, and  phone calls with her two grown sons. She will be thrilled when Dodger baseball resumes, the YMCA pool reopens, and her local art house theaters go back to screening weird documentaries and vintage Italian movies.



Laura Owen

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