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July 2005

Disturbances

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Ollie2005_06_29

I don’t care what you might say about my ancestors coming from the seering savannahs of Africa, it’s been too damned hot for too long around here. Ronni doesn’t like air conditioning and she hardly ever turns it on. I know it’s my job to keep the birds from breaking through the screen door to attack Ronni, but too bad, she's on her own. The best I can do in this heat is lie here and hope.

It was hot last week, too, when Ronni unceremoniously dropped me off at David Baird’s place and then left for six whole days. I was so mad, I sat on David’s cowboy boots in the back of his closet for the first two days and wouldn’t come out.

After the second night, David grabbed me by the scruff of my neck and dragged me out. I was really hungry by then, so I had some crunchies in the kitchen and then I found some of my favorite toys from home scattered around the living room and it felt good to stretch my muscles in a good romp chasing a few mousies and some cellophane.

Olliedavid2005_07_22b

Then the heat got to me, so I settled down on David’s excellent, black sofa that nicely shows off my spots. If I’d realized how good I look there the first day, I wouldn’t have hidden in the closet for so long.

Something big is going on around here and I don’t like it. For two weeks before my trip to David’s house, there was this guy, Jimmy Flynn, who scattered all kinds of tools and equipment around the house. I had to guess where my litter box might be every day because Ronni kept moving it to different places while Jimmy pounded and banged and painted and stuff. Geez – it was so noisy around here, I couldn’t have a decent afternoon nap.

And now that she’s home, Ronni has stuffed me in my carrier (Note to Ronni: I need a new carrier – I’ve almost outgrown this one) three times and taken me out for a couple of hours to someone else’s house. She says it’s because people are looking at our home to see if they want to buy it, but don’t you think the house would be a lot more attractive if there were a cat as beautiful as I am showing them all the good places there are to stash their toys?

Olliedavid2005_07_22a

I'm not very clear yet what all this "selling the house" means for me, but the way life is going around here lately, it probably won't be to my liking. The only positive thing I can say about it all is that both Jimmy and David are good guys. They know how to appreciate a cat like me and snoozing on David’s sofa is almost as comfy as the pillows on Ronni’s bed.

But basically, I’m one pissed off cat. Strangers poking their noses in all my nooks and crannies, too much noise, too much heat. And worse, Ronni says she’s going away again at the end of July.

When will it all end…


Fear of Aging

category_bug_journal2.gif The fear of death is as old as human consciousness and it is a powerful deterrent to doing stupid things, on our way to the grave, that might kill us before our time. Still, few like to be reminded they are mortal and although it is rarely acknowledged, much of the ageism and age discrimination evident in U.S. culture must be attributed to that most primal of fears.

Old people remind others that they too will wither and die one day, so elders are often made outcasts – ignored, sometimes vilified for being greedy geezers, fired from their jobs before younger workers, and urged into retirement villages where they are isolated from the general population.

No wonder everyone is afraid of getting old.

But with aging come some excellent compensations that can be gained in no other way. Here are some of the things I like about getting older:

It is an enormous relief to have lost concern for my appearance which afflicted most of my adulthood. Now, “I yam what I yam,” as Popeye said, and at 64, I really mean it. I’m invisible to men these days, but the need to be noticed in a sexual way is gone with the waistline. Do I wish my face hadn’t got so pudgy in my old age? Well, yes. But I had the misfortune to be behind the door when they were passing out those gorgeous facial bones that give women like Katharine Hepburn such an attractive old age. And them’s the breaks. It’s okay.

Although my nature will never allow me to reach the Zen-like state of equilibrium I aspire to, my patience and tolerance have grown a great deal in just the past five or six years. Sometimes, now, I recognize when an argument is pointless and I can walk away from it even when I think I’m right.

If I can’t shrug when things don’t go my way, at least I don’t require myself to be stoic and pretend it’s all right anymore. When I lost the bid on the home I wanted in Maine last week, I cried. I even wailed a little. Sometimes bad things happen. In old age, I know to grieve for awhile, to feel the pain and then get on with Plan B.

More genuinely than in my youth, I can be pleased for another’s accomplishments even when they impinge on my beliefs about my talents and capabilities. I’ve stopped comparing myself to others.

And nowadays, I eat ice cream, only ice cream, for dinner when I feel like it without a twinge of guilt.

The most interesting thing about these changes is that they have happened without effort. They came along little by little on their own and I noticed most of them only in retrospect, after they had become part of my being.

To younger people, these may not seem, now, to be just compensation for a wrinkly face, limited energy and the aches and pains of old age, but they are infinitely more satisfying than the transient benefits of youth - or at least they feel that way. And the best part is that everyone, no matter how afraid they are of getting old, will find these and other rewards waiting for them when their later years arrive.

The important thing is to appreciate each era of life in its time.


Defining Retirement

According to the media and those who market to older people, no one retires these days. Instead, they become “active adults” when they stop working full time.

“They’re embarking on a new stage of life as opposed to an exit ramp,” says Marc Freedman, author of Prime Time: How Baby Boomers Will Revolutionize Retirement and Transform America, a title that takes on a certain irony when he states that unlike their parents who sought leisure and recreation in their later years, boomers are “coming into a whole new chapter that hasn’t been well-defined.”
- Christian Science Monitor, 27 June 2005

What is defined these days is longevity. We live longer and healthier lives than previous generations and there is no reason, for the majority of boomers who say they want to keep working past 65, to do so except for corporate America’s distaste for gray-heads in their offices.

This time of year is layoff season at corporations and anyone past 55 and even younger had better do everything they can to hang on because it will be an uphill battle against age discrimination to find another job. Many of them, like me, will find retirement – or, in the current parlance, active adulthood - forced on them.

Retirement, even in recent years, is not a concept I had contemplated. It conjures up for me visions of golf courses and swimming aerobics under the unrelenting heat of the desert sun in what the housing industry calls active-adult communities and I call old-age ghettos.

They may work for some people, but I can’t think of a better way to become the cliché of a hidebound geezer than living in what is, essentially, a gated community of like-aged and like-economically-situated residents. That will come soon enough if one day it becomes necessary to move to an assisted-living facility.

Meanwhile, I have not been able to define retirement for myself. I didn’t expect to stop working full time until I made the choice, and once I’ve completed the move to Portland, Maine, I’ll be looking for ways to enhance my income. This blog will keep me busy too and in a couple of weeks, I’ll begin writing regularly for another website. Also, there are all the things I want to know that I had no time to pursue during my working years. Boredom is not in my future.

In the U.S., we are each defined to the outside world primarily by our jobs. One of the first questions on meeting new people is, What do you do? And I no longer know how to answer that question. It may be vanity or prejudice based on faulty, past perception, but “I’m retired” is not a phrase that will pass my lips anytime soon.

Others’ impression of me, however, is not what is important. How I characterize my new circumstance to myself is. For nearly 50 years, my days have been framed by my working life, by travel to and from my place of employment and by the titles radio producer, television producer, web editor appended to my name.

Now, I don’t know what to call myself, but it sure won’t be “active adult.”


Marketing to Older Folks

There is a conversation going on at David Wolfe’s Ageless Marketing about why advertisers spent so few dollars targeting the over-50 crowd. They must be spending their TV hours with Nickelodeon because on the channels I watch there are a whole lot of arthritis, constipation and erectile dysfunction commercials – not products aimed at the youth market.

There is an abundance of marketing targeted to older folks, although it is all generally negative, as if people older than 50 have no interest in anything but bodily malfunctions.

Ignoring those, however, older people are marketed to all day and night on television just like everyone else. Age doesn’t matter in regard to household products, automobiles, food, cruise vacations and cell phones. And for that, the advertising industry which uses models and actors from a variety of age groups to hawk all kinds of products, deserves applause.

Marketing appears to me to be one of the few areas of American culture that is age neutral and I’m not so age chauvinist as to ignore a car commercial just because the vehicle in question is being driven by a gorgeous 20-something. At the same time, I suspect that no college kid in need of a telephone service ignores Verizon just because pitchman, James Earl Jones is 70 years old.

We do a lot of complaining about ageism here at TimeGoesBy, but it’s hard to make that case against marketers; it is the products that too frequently don't suit older people, not the advertising.

Meanwhile, Other Plans deconstructs a Zogby survey she received seeking to determine older women’s interests for the purpose of marketing to them:

“One section wanted to know if we’d be interested in a ‘Women Only’ concert. Uh, no. What for?…Some of my favorite musicians and fans come with testicles. And others don’t…

“Another section wanted to know if it would be helpful to have a body/mind/spirit website targeted to women our age. My reaction to that was that it would be fine for some. For me it sounded like it would be too pastel.”

Other Plans is right; the topics selected by marketers, publishers and the media in general as women-oriented are almost always insulting. They assume women (in this case, older ones) have no interest in politics, finance, business, war, the law, taxation, etc. and by extension, that men have no interest in the “softer” subjects. Both are false…

As is the idea that older people deserve a separate marketing category. Certainly there are products designed to appeal to differing age groups and advertisers appear have mastered the art of targeting those quite well. For the rest of it – what is it they think I don’t appreciate, at my advanced age, about the Geico gecko?


Brother and Sister

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099paulronni1988

[1988] On our trip down the northern coast of the U.S., Elsbeth and I stopped to visit my brother, Paul, who was living then in Astoria, Oregon. I could be wrong, but I believe this is one of only two or three photos of us together - and not a good one - since we were kids.

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Ronni Age 46

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[November 1987] On the weekend my former next-door neighbor, Elsbeth, held Thanksgiving at her new home in Virginia, there were guests from five U.S. states and two other countries. Elsbeth and I made a pact to exchange personal tours of our childhood homes – Oregon and the Swiss Alps. So far we’ve only done Oregon.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
hamlet @ 2003-10-29 said:
Beautiful photo :-)

jkh_22 @ 2003-10-29 10:19 said:
You can swing by and see me in Lyon when you take that long overdue trip to the alps - with or without Elsbeth.

zinetv @ 2003-10-29 said:
By all means take the trip to Alps.

roomwithaview @ 2003-10-30 said:
I love this photo of you, Ronni. Great and unguarded. Your log is so masterful and sure. Thanks loads for your comment on my beautiful parents. I agree. And it’s very nice to have this pair of photos to remind me that they were lovely then, at the leading edge of their dreams.

colorstalker @ 2003-11-01 said:
What a direct & fearless gaze.


Elsbeth at Thanksgiving

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096elsbeth1987_11turkey

[November 1987] I’ve always been impressed with how every immigrant to the U.S. I’ve known – people like my friend Elsbeth, who are unlikely to have portrayed Pilgrims in grammar school pageants - embraces our most American of holidays.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
boogers @ 2003-10-28 said:
She must really like turkey. The turkey almost looks happy too.

av_producer @ 2003-10-28 said:
In an odd way as an immigrant she is a pilgrim of sorts. I am a born and raised American although I have never hugged a turkey quite like that. Nice memory.

einstein @ 2003-10-28 said:
This is disturbing : - )

sckelly @ 2003-10-28 said:
She needs to wash her sweater...er, boil it.

williambernthal @ 2003-10-28 said:
Embracing the holiday doesn’t REQUIRE embracing the turkey, I hope she knows.

zinetv @ 2003-10-29 said:
Great, its hug a turkey before you cook ‘em day.

hillspan @ 2003-10-29 said:
She looks like she is dancing with it. By the way, Canada has Thanksgiving, too.

roomwithaview @ 2003-10-30 said:
I have hugged a few turkeys in my days - and some of them were human!


The Can’t-Waits

category_bug_journal2.gif We humans like new beginnings, the chance to start over. We make resolutions on New Year’s Day and whether we keep them or not, we enjoy the idea of a clean slate, the opportunity to do things better in the coming twelve months.

Birthdays hold the idea of a clean slate too, along with graduations, new jobs, marriage, even divorce and – a new place to live.

On Sunday, I go to Portland, Maine for most of the week to find a new home to buy. The decision to leave New York, forced on me by circumstance, was made six weeks ago and since then, in the busy-ness of preparing this home for its sale, I hadn’t realized until a few days ago that this move is a new beginning for me.

Looking back, it appears that I’ve made it a lifetime career to start over. I left home at age 16, one week after graduating from high school. I married and then I divorced. I’ve had four careers, starting at the bottom of each one, whatever my age. I’ve lived in six cities, liking some better than others. And now there will be a seventh.

I didn’t expect this at my age. Sixty-four, when it’s written out like that, seems a time for being settled, and when I moved into this apartment 22 years ago, I swore they’d take me out feet first. I held fast to a lyric from Manhattan Tower: “New York’s my home, let me never leave it. New York’s my home sweet home.”

But today, I’ve got a giant case of the can’t-waits. A whole new city to discover. Different customs, sensibilities, ambience, rhythm of life. Every place, large and small, has its singular myth and to maintain a cohesive culture, everyone living in that place must buy into the local myth which affects politics, schools, building codes, transportation, elections, how taxes are spent - everything.

New York believes it is the center of the universe. It is brash, arrogant, loud and in your face. I wonder what Portland, Maine believes about itself…

I won’t find the answer in one week of house-hunting, but this trip is the beginning of my new beginning. And I can’t wait.

[You will find another take on all this at A Sense of Place. It’s somewhat more maudlin but no less true of the mixed emotions I’m juggling.]


Invisible Moments

category_bug_ageism.gif In What Are Old People For?, Dr. William H. Thomas notes that

“…elders are pressured to keep up the pace, to continue to achieve and society’s highest praise for old people is reserved for those who most resemble adults in their appearance and behavior. And when they no longer are capable of holding up that pretense, they are made invisible to the culture…” [emphasis added]

Dr. Thomas was referring to the warehousing of elderly in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, but long before old people are ready for that indignity, they are made invisible in dozens of small ways every day.

Maria writes about this at her blog, Silver Fox Whispers and she was gracious enough to send me two real-life examples:

“We had dinner with friends and after desert, the men moved into the living room. Two younger men became engaged in a lively discussion. My husband who was sitting with them felt he had something pertinent to add. He tried three times to interject an opinion. Each time he was ignored. The guys went on as if he wasn't there. He finally got up and walked away. They didn't even realize he left the room. He felt less than valued.”

“I was visiting my daughter…There had been a block party the week before and her partner mentioned it at dinner. Then she got a few photos taken the night of the party [and] passed them right over my head, so to speak, to share with other friends closer in age to her at the table. I was hurt and I was damned if I was going to say, ‘Please may I see them, too.’ The photos went around the table and back to the partner, who then put them away. I silently fumed the night away.”

After a certain age, these invisible moments come ‘round more frequently. Waiting on line to buy a toasted bagel recently, the counter kid’s eyes passed right by me to the next man as though I wasn’t there. It’s not the first time it happened and it won’t be the last.

Increasing invisibility is one of the downsides of aging that reveal how little interest in or value the culture places on old people. It’s something we share with kids, as Shel Silverstein once pointed out:

Said the little boy, “Sometimes I drop my spoon.”
Said the old man, “I do that too.”

The little boy whispered, “I wet my pants.”
“I do that too,” laughed the old man.”

Said the little boy, “I often cry.”
The old man nodded, “So do I.”

“But worst of all,” said the boy, “it seems
Grown-ups don’t pay attention to me.”

And he felt the warmth of a wrinkled old hand.
“I know what you mean,” said the old man.


More Media Muscle Please

category_bug_ageism.gif Mainstream newspaper columnists seem to be having an off week. John Tierney of The New York Times did a lazy job in his column yesterday on Social Security, and Abigail Trafford at the Washington Post was a letdown too, on the same day.

Ms. Trafford is the only columnist at a major U.S. newspaper writing regularly, though not often enough, about aging. Her column this week addresses age stereotyping, using as her jumping-off point the example of a dumb comment by a 20-year-old about older drivers being "soooo slow":

“But what if the ‘they’ in such a quote were African American postal workers? Sooooo slow! Or girls in algebra class? Sooooo slow!

“Instead of chuckles there would be outrage and charges of racism and sexism…

“Lawrence H. Summers, the president of Harvard University, nearly lost his job after he crossed the ‘ism’ line with his insensitive remarks about the scientific ability of women.”

- Washington Post, 14 June 2005

Ms. Trafford then hits – all too briefly – a few highlights of the prevailing American ageism:

“Geezer-bashing is socially acceptable….Chronological diversity is not regarded as part of cultural diversity.

“…the social virus of ageism is endemic. It harms older Americans by unfairly portraying them with negative characteristics and marginalizing them in society…

“Ageism also harms younger people by exacerbating their fears of growing old.”

All important points we’ve been making at TimeGoesBy for more than a year now, but by sandwiching them between several paragraphs of what is a minor, ageist indignity about the driving habits of older people when there are so many serious consequences such as employment and healthcare discrimination, Ms. Trafford diminishes the issue and comes dangerously close to making ageism a joke.

It would be good if Ms. Trafford, in her unique position at a wide-circulation newspaper that gets more attention than this little blog, would assert a bit more muscle on issues of aging than she does in this column.


Greedy Old Geezers? Not

There are thousands of newspapers online and it is one of Crabby Old Lady’s pleasures to skip around among them, especially the editorial and op-ed pages, to see how the national debate is being set.

A few newspapers are more equal than others and therefore more important to read to be an adequately informed citizen. The New York Times is one of that handful because leaders and policymakers worldwide read and are influenced in their decisions by those pages.

It is therefore incumbent on those newspapers to be more fully accurate and to tell the whole story. Today, The New York Times fails egregiously – as they regularly do on the topic of Social Security.

John Tierney, who recently joined the paper’s roster of op-ed columnists, lobbies in his column for raising the retirement age as a way of tweaking Social Security. Crabby thinks this is a good idea, but in making his point, Mr. Tierney accuses old people of being lazy in not working longer than they do.

“Americans now feel entitled to spend nearly a third of their adult lives in retirement. Their jobs are less physically demanding than their parents' were, but they're retiring younger and typically start collecting Social Security by age 62. Most could keep working…”
- The New York Times, 14 June 2005

No, they cannot, Mr. Tierney.

They took early Social Security out of the necessity to eat regularly because once laid off, no one would hire them. For Mr. Tierney (and other reporters on this topic) to assume laziness in elders is lazy reporting. Let Crabby explain.

Anyone who collects Social Security at whatever age is counted as retired and are then no longer counted in the monthly unemployment numbers from the Bureau of Labor Statistics which thereby show older people as more fully employed that some other demographics. That is one way statistics lie – when raw numbers are given unwarranted explanations on whim and bigotry to support a partisan political agenda.

Every survey about retirement in the past three or four years reports that older people in large numbers intend to keep working beyond age 65 and even 70. Where, then, is the survey of early Social Security beneficiaries that asks why they took the benefit at 62?

As Crabby often says, no one is getting rich on Social Security and to opt for early benefits, often in desperation, cuts the amount of the payment dramatically and for life. Yet Mr. Tierney says:

“If the elderly were willing to work longer, there would be lower taxes on everyone and fewer struggling young families.”

What about the struggling old people, Mr. Tierney, who have spent a lifetime paying for their elders’ Social Security without complaint and whom you are now vilifying as greedy old geezers?

If the retirement surveys mean anything, old people are willing to work longer; they are just not allowed to. Until there is a survey asking why the majority take early Social Security, to report that old people are lazy is irresponsible journalism at its worst on the part of Mr. Tierney and The New York Times.


Ronni in Spain

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095ronni1987_9spain

[September 1987] One night in southern Spain where we were shooting an interview with Sean Connery, I stuck three pesetas – then the equivalent to about 50 cents - in a slot machine at the casino and out poured a stream of coins that, when counted, were worth about US$4,000.

Found money! So I splurged for an additional week at the tony Marbella Club, visited the Alhambra in Granada and took this boat across the Strait of Gibralter for a couple of days in Tangier.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
av_producer @ 2003-10-27 said:
Ah, the sweet hand of fate...

zinetv @ 2003-10-28 said:
It’s stories like this one that keeps the slots of the world busy.

einstein @ 2003-10-28 said:
Got any lottery numbers?

arto @ 2003-10-29 said:
Now that is a great story.

colorstalker @ 2003-11-01 said:
This makes me grit my teeth that nothing like that ever happened to me. Hmmmm. Not quite enlightened yet. Anyway, glad it happened to SOMEBODY.

yolima @ 2003-11-07 said:
Oh, what a great story. I do believe Sean Connery must have brought you this luck!

sylvia @ 2004-01-12 08:55 said:
Sounds like a great time! I have lived here 4 years now and STILL haven’t taken the ferry! I swear I’m doing it this year.


Dominick Dunne, Judy and Ronni

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094dunnejudyrb1987

[1987] I met Judy when we were both producers at WMCA Radio in 1968. She moved on to establish her own publicist’s business specializing in big-name authors, and her press parties are always glamorous affairs. Eight years after this one, I produced a profile of Dunne for Fox News which, I believe, never aired - Roger Ailes had not been hired yet and Fox had not yet found its, uh, footing on television.

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COMMENTS FROM PREVIOUS WEBSITE
yolima @ 2003-10-26 said:
Hi Ronni, I remember Dominic Dunne. His articles in Vanity Fair, his murdered daughter. Very sad story.

virgorama @ 2003-10-26 said:
Yes, Dunne, interesting articles on the Menendez Brothers too, fascinating.

roomwithaview @ 2003-10-26 said:
Love, love love this history of yours (and our times).


Don't Annoy the Pig

“Although people often think of older adults as ornery, they’re actually nicer when they have problems in their relationships. When they do feel upset, they’re more likely to wait to see if things improve than yell or argue.”
- The New York Times, 7 June 2005

That’s a researcher from one of two new studies reporting that older people are not as grumpy or crabby as they are thought to be, and they are also better, according to the studies, at getting along with others than young people.

Although there are good reasons for Crabby Old Lady’s moniker, she has noticed that she’s more likely to let it go in recent years than in the past, at least when disagreements turn up among friends if not politics and the culture at large. And she agrees with the researchers about avoidance too:

“It may be that avoiding problems is good for relationships,” Dr. Birditt said. “Particularly if it’s a personality issue, something unlikely to change, it may be helpful to just ignore it.”

That fortunately, is a lesson Crabby Old Lady learned young: it’s not for nothing that for 20-odd years she has owned a sofa pillow stitched with a saying of Mark Twain’s:

“Never try to teach a pig to sing – it wastes your time and annoys the pig.”

[Thanks to M. Dent for the tip on this story]


Social Security - Part 21: Risky Business

It’s been almost three weeks since Crabby Old Lady mentioned Social Security privatization and you’re probably not unhappy about that. Nevertheless, it’s time for an update.

President Bush has been making fewer speeches on Social Security to his hand-picked audiences. The most recent, on 2 June in rural Hopkinsville, Kentucky, didn’t vary from his usual pitch:

“Freedom is on the march...

“In 2027, the amount of money coming in [to Social Security] will be $200 billion less than the amount of money going out…

“I mean, it's conceivable if we don't do anything that the payroll tax will have to go to 18 percent in order to make - fulfill the promises for the baby boomers…”

“If you're a police officer and a nurse, who started working in 2011 and you work your entire careers, when you retire both of you will have a combined nest egg [from private accounts] of $669,000 as part of your retirement package. That's how money grows.

- whitehouse.gov

Where does this guy get his numbers, Crabby wants to know? Markets go up and down; nobody can predict their return over time. But the public seems to understand that.

The more Mr. Bush talks up Social Security privatization, the less people like it. In addition, they are nervous about the economy: Consumer confidence is down, the inflation rate was up to 3.5 percent in April and the Dow is down 300 points since the president first took office in 2001. Also, pension funds are crashing left and right.

“It just reinforces people’s agreement with the fundamental principle of Social Security,” said David Certner, director of federal affairs at Washington-based AARP. “There’s a lot of risk out there, and [Social Security] is not the system for risk.”

“We’ve become increasingly a risk society, where you’re transferring all the risk onto the individual,” says Karen Friedman, policy director at the Pension Rights Center in Washington.

- bloomberg.com, 8 June 2005

Mr. Bush seems to be losing interest in Social Security. Congress is involved with judges and filibusters, and the news media is mostly ignoring the issue.

Crabby Old Lady is hoping the president will drop the phrase “personal accounts” into the same hole where he put “track down bin Laden dead or alive,” and then Congress can address the simple tweaks the system needs and get on with the really big problem – Medicare.

...to be continued...

Social Security Privatization Series Index


Unwarranted Surprise

category_bug_ageism.gif It’s not the cultural pressure on elders to behave and look like younger people or even the overt age discrimination in the workplace that marginalizes old people. I am coming to believe that these indignities would not exist if it weren’t for the indiscriminate ageism that permeates media in all its forms. It is so common and so subtle, it can even appear to be complimentary.

In the 11 June issue of Newsweek, David Gates reviews a new novel titled It’s All Right Now. He leads by noting that the author,

“…[Charles] Chadwick, a 72-year old British civil servant and first novelist, is an amateur with no career to sustain and seemingly no preconception of what a novel is...[the book] has the exhilarating freshness of not knowing any better.”

Even while coming close to dismissing the author as a non-professional, Gates’s review is favorable, so much so he concludes Chadwick is among the “masters.” But in between, he expresses surprise that the old man, a retired British civil servant, has had any association with literature at all:

“Chadwick is no unlettered primitive. Judging by [the protagonists’s] voice, his creator must have read Beckett, and perhaps Joseph Heller’s Something Happened. He alludes repeatedly to the poetry of Philip Larkin…”

Of course, this is a common conceit among many who write about books in the popular press – that we mere readers of any age (on whom, ironically, they depend for their livelihood) are too dim to have read or, if we have, to have understood anything more complex than genre fiction, let alone write it.

The undertone of the entire review is dismay at Chadwick’s accomplishment at such an advanced age. The piece is titled The Kid is All Right. The cutline is “A 72-year old civil servant pens a brilliant first novel” - both insinuating that Chadwick is an anomaly: how amazing that an "ordinary man" in his eighth decade is capable of writing a book worth reading.

Why shouldn’t someone with 70 years of life experience, some talent for words and the distinct possibility of possessing a bit of wisdom be published for the first time without surprise? I’ll read an old person’s first novel long before any of the hundreds of unripened 20-something first-timers who are published each year.

This review is an example of the kind of subtle, off-handed ageism which, if you read as much about old people as I do for this blog, becomes apparent every day and in its ubiquity, supports the belief that all but a few old people are defective in some manner.


The Little “Oof” Noise

“How many of us are going to let our hair turn silver? I have, but I know I’m in the minority. I actually have a friend a bit older than I am, with flaming red hair…who says it makes her ill to look at my silver threads...

“Here’s a line from another ancient song, When You and I Were Young, Maggie: ‘My face is a well-written page, Maggie, but time alone was the pen.’ People used to say: ‘I earned these wrinkles.’ Why isn’t that ok anymore?..."

Why, indeed. That’s melinama talking on her Pratie Place blog who also says, “I’m tired of the quest for eternal youth.”

Me too, which is pretty much the entire reason for TimeGoesBy’s existence. But it’s an uphill battle to make being old, looking old and enjoying growing into elderhood acceptable.

“Doug Wilcox said he started marking his age not by the birthdays but by the way he was treated by society and his retirement…’When you’re 50 years old, you start to feel old because that’s when people start treating you like you’re old,’ he said. ‘You’re almost out of it…”
- MyrtleBeachOnline, 5 June 2005

It wouldn’t be a bad thing to be treated as “old” if the culture didn’t, at the same time, treat aging as a defect. The greatest compliment adults believe they can bestow on an elder is, “Oh, you don’t look that old” or “Oh, you don’t act like you’re that old.” I’ve often been told both and I resent it. I've earned these 64 years and I want to be what I am now without feeling there is something wrong with me.

Barring major medical problems, getting old isn't as terrible as adults assume. Many elders, even with the aches and pains and normal slowing down, just fold aging into their routine and get on with living. 89-year-old Louise Strickland says,

“I’ve had a hip replacement, and I’ve got some nerve damage in my foot and leg, so I walk with a walking stick now. I don’t feel it – getting old – all the time. It just happens, but I don’t feel it happening.”

68-year-old George Barna agrees:

“The only difference between now and then is it just takes me a little longer to do things.”

- MyrtleBeachOnline, 5 June 2005

We are gray-haired, wrinkled and slower than we were in youth and the cultural pressure to appear otherwise - to remain as midlife adults rather than moving into elderhood - can rob us, if we succumb, of thoroughly experiencing the most satisfying period of our lives. All that is needed is to let us be who we authentically are without negative social consequences or, in melinama's words:

“I would like it to be ok to get old…I would like it to be ok to look my age...and sometimes maybe even make the little ‘oof’ noise when I sit down after an exhausting day.”