Denise Mayer in Times Square, Manhattan.
Denise Mayer in Times Square, Manhattan.

Denise Mayer, a resident of Montclair, New Jersey, is very much a product of her generation – in this case, the 60's hippie movement, in which activism swept the youth of America and the country as a whole. Her father was very involved in his local community, while her mother was an artist, and both left their influences on her. A self-described feminist, Denise from an early age was involved in political organizing, primarily around abortion.

When she was young, she spent two summers on a farm in Mississippi at the height of the civil rights movement. While she was too young to understand it thoroughly, in her gut, she knew something was very wrong. She later found out that the people she was staying with were in the Ku Klux Klan. 

This early memory left a big impression on her worldview and political beliefs. Even now, she tries to alway look at issues from "the "underdog perspective."

A lover of art, Denise is crafty and loves working on creative projects around the home. She spends most of her time going to museums and galleries in New York City and New Jersey with her art buddies.

A resident addition to the community changed her and her husband Ed's life. "Four years ago new neighbors moved in. We have been overjoyed. Vuk Castillo Calkins (10 years old) and Tiago Castillo Calkins (7 years old) have become as close as if they were our own family. They are always up for a trip to New York. We also do art projects for school, cook and have sleepovers. I didn't anticipate this, but it's certainly brought another dimension to aging."

Without grandkids of their own, Vuk and Tiago have helped fill up Denise and Ed's lives.

Before retiring at 66, Denise had started her own business where she was a project manager for architecture and installation design projects, primarily focused on "wayfinding". She loved her work and was busy 24/7, but decided to retire when her financial planner told her she simply didn't need to work anymore. 

Now, she sometimes misses her work, but her days are busy with creative projects, outings in New York City with friends, and precious time spent with Vuk and Tiago.

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How does it feel to be 72?

You can't help but think about aging and you can't help but think about dying. I don't know how this happened, but I look at the obituaries and I look at the oldest one that died, who's the youngest one and how many are my age – every Sunday.

How is it going to happen? I don't want to be in pain. There's a fear that that's there too, of the unknown. But I think I'm healthy. Of course I could do more. And I'm active not in a physical sense where it's exercise, but you're doing things mentally. That's really important.

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What do you look forward to?

I would love to have grandchildren, but I don't know if my daughter and her husband will decide to have children.  

I've discovered that I like kids more so than I realized. But in the meantime we have Vuk and Tiago to watch grow up. It's interesting seeing who they will become.

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What is your biggest concern?

Donald Trump. Hands down. And global warming.

And then honestly, aging and dying concern me and I try not to think about it. It's anxiety. And I think Ed is going to decline faster. He's got cancer, which he got from Agent Orange when he was in Vietnam.

And then I don't have a great faith. So what I envision is of my own making. I can change it if it's not safe enough, but I don't know what's going to happen. And I don't believe that there's someone up there saying, come on in, welcome home. Whoever she is.

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Life expectancy 2023

United States

About the photographer

Mei Seva


Mei Seva is a visual artist based in New York City. She seeks to shine a light on climate change, inequality, women's issues & more. She recently received a grant to create a public art installation sharing refugee stories.

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