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Wednesday, 14 November 2012

How Not to be an Old Person

With so many baby boomers entering their mid-sixties, being old has become the new cool age group for the media. They vie among themselves for attention, intent on advising Crabby Old Lady on how to avoid being old – or, at least, to not be perceived that way.

They don't say it out loud, but the can't-miss message is that it's not good to be old. They never give a reason but it is obvious that old people behaving like – well, old people somehow offends the sensibilities of the world at large and especially younger people.

Apparently, we dress badly and the biggest fashion faux pas in their judgment is elastic waistbands. (Oh, what Crabby wouldn't give to live long enough to see how quickly they change their minds when they get old.)

They don't much like our hair either, preferring that the gray be colored away, and we simply must, must, must keep it cut short.

Long hair on old women, you see, might be mistaken for sexy which disturbs young people's idea of their elders. Well, they don't say that, but it's what they mean.

(Yes, yes, Crabby knows - it's confusing. On the one hand, we are supposed to look young; on the other, not too young. Crabby wishes they'd get their messages organized. She's having trouble keeping up.)

Crabby gets a lot of spam email urging her to hire a life coach specializing in “senior citizens” to show her how to be old and wonderful and get the most out of her later years.

Crabby already thinks she is wonderful and she is adequately fulfilled. But if you believe someone else (almost always a couple of decades younger than you) can tell you how best to live, go for it.

Do keep in mind, however, that there are no academic standards for life coaching and many get their “certificates” after a few hours of online training for about $500-$600.

Republicans in Congress keep threatening to raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 and the age for full Social Security benefits to 69 or 70. Crabby guesses that means their advice for the nation's elders is to keep working - an okay idea for people capable of it, but nobody seems to have explained age discrimination to Congress let alone physical impediments to continued employment.

Crabby sometimes wonders if those Congress people are in cahoots with “experts” who advise elders to start businesses. Of course, no start-up evangelists mention that about 33 percent of new businesses fail in the first six months, 50 percent are gone within two years and 75 percent within three – undoubtedly along with the elders' life savings.

Then there are the standard suggestions: take a class, join a club, travel, volunteer, find a part-time job – the ones you and Crabby have read hundreds of times.

None are bad ideas – Crabby Old Lady and many other old folks get quite a bit of pleasure from doing those things. But Crabby always has to laugh that the writers reveal them as though the ideas have been a secret until now and think they deserve a Nobel Prize for their originality.

What makes Crabby Old Lady laugh the most, however, are the websites and magazines aimed at elders (invariably called boomers because no one can be old, you know) where for every story about how to look ten years younger there are ten more about cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, living with MS, back pain, cancer, painful sex, managing prescription drugs, heart disease and every other affliction of old age plus a few new ones.

Is there anything that says old to young people faster than discussing our ailments?

Not that Crabby believes it's a bad idea to talk about our health. That's always been a bad rap for old folks since until the boomers made aging popular, no one ever talked or wrote about what old age is really like and they still don't do a very good job of it.

With a handful of excellent exceptions, the media stuff floating around advising us about how to behave in our old age is written by people who are too young to know anything at all about getting old. Their only idea about our sensibilities is that we're just wrinkled young people and it's hard to be more wrong.

Many years ago, Crabby Old Lady was asked to consult an internet startup aimed at elders. The first question she asked was how many people older than 60 were on the staff. The answer was none and in fact, there was no one older than 39 or 40.

Crabby didn't take the gig but she gave them one piece of advice that she stands by today for any endeavor aimed at boomers and elders: you cannot talk or write intelligently about old people without having a few of them (at least age 60) around to advise you.


At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Dad's Car


Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post

Comments

Amen. Some of the advice reminds me of a scene in Mad Men in which a bunch of male ad guys are deciding how best to appeal to women when advertising makeup.

You are crabby today. I agree that Oldness is far too feared in our society. Now that we're in the midst of a silver tsunami will older adults redefine our youth-centric social views? I sometimes do smile to myself about my elastic waistbands. Who wouldda thought you would be dressing that way, Gaea, I say to myself. Ha ha ha....I'm old....and that's just fine with me.

Enjoyed you posting today. I guess I have reverse discrimination. When I look at many of the younger generation whose natural good looks are spoiled by sloppy dressing,unkempt hair styles and all matters of distraction that takes away from their true beauty. When someone younger tries to judge me I just think you'll understand in time. We are all headed in the same direction from beginning to the end. What bothers me most is having to replace my cherished doctor of my own age with one much younger.

I'm here via Kenju. Thought you might enjoy my latest blog post on our perceived relevance once we retire. Good post, C.L.!
http://cherishauthor.blogspot.com/2012/11/irrelevant.html

Good stuff, Crabby. :)

The old adage about not judging someone until you have walked a mile in his/her shoes seems to apply here.

Only an old person can tell you what it's like to be old. Even that varies from person to person. I still think Bette Davis said it best.

You tweaked my crabby bone with this post. Life coaches --- ugghh! Is there anything human beings can do without being coached by someone else these days? The last "life coach" I met I would call more of a "paid friend" or maybe a "friend prostitute". She had few qualifications to legitimately be called anything else, but had taken a course and gotten a certificate. You could call her 2 or 3 times a month on the phone for a brief conversation for something like $75. It's both sad and disgusting. I'm sorry if I've offended anyone here who has been working as one, but I find this whole life coach thing pathetic and ridiculous.

It's all still entertaining to me knowing that what many of them are in denial about will someday be their fate.

I just wish that I knew then what I know now. You would think younger people would be coming to us for information and advice about what's in store for them rather than trying to market to our perceived needs.

My sister and I, who both had long hair at the time, were leaving the parking garage to shop at Washington Square in Portland when a car with a few young men stopped to yell at us for "fooling them." The gist of their angry and frightening remarks were about our long hair and attire (jeans and tees) "making" them think we were younger as though we gave a rat's patootie what they thought. We had her young daughter and son with us at the time. It was an unsettling and confusing moment for all of us as we rushed inside away from them. I was about 60 at the time and she 40. It still disturbs me when I think about it.

I think it is not one's actual age as much as ageism that is so hard to bear.

I love Crabby Old Lady! She needs to make more regular appearances.

Getting old is simply another stage of life. We need to embrace it, not try to deny it.

As if someone could 'coach' us on how to be young! I was young once. I remember how it was done. I've moved on.

I know many life coaches and I've never used one. The LCs were my clients and believe me, they couldn't organise their way out of a paper bag.

In all the elder/boomer articles I've seen, none of them credit us with life wisdom. They're all out to sell us something to make us more acceptable (to each other? to the younger ones?)

I am the only elder I know with long hair.

XO
WWW

I agree with much of what you say, but please, please don't blame boomers for the idea that it's not okay to get old.

I am a boomer who turns 65 this month, and I am sick and tired of boomers being blamed for everything that is wrong in our world. People seem to forget that we were the ones who fought against sexism and racism and other forms of discrimination, and though we didn't do it alone, we certainly contributed to positive changes. Yes, there was that stupid "Don't trust anyone over 30," but I never subscribed to that.

My hair hasn't turned gray yet, but when it does I don't intend to dye it. I have wrinkles on my face and would never consider "having work done." My number one qualification for clothes is that they be comfortable. I don't look down on older women for wearing their hair long or having elastic waistbands.

When I was young, what I hated about old people was that they all seemed so rigid and set in their ways, and they blamed me for thinking differently. Then I met some people who didn't fit that stereotype, and I learned that one can stay youthful not in body, but in spirit. I remember looking at my yoga teachers--women in their 50s who had incorporated this new (to them) and strange discipline into their lives--and saying "I want to be like them when I am in my 50s." And I was.

Now I look at my 76-year-old yoga teacher and say, "I want to be like him when I am in my 70s." I try to keep learning every day, and trust that it will keep me young in the way that counts the most.

Boomers are a very big generation, and it's said that we will "do" aging differently. But we are big enough that there is great diversity in how we do that and anything else. I ask those of you who are not boomers to think a little before you blame all of us for what a few of us might do.

If we all keep growing in spirit as we age, we can unite in forging a new and more positive view of aging.

I think if you take care of yourself you will feel and look better.

I agree that there's deep ambivalence about "Long hair on old women [which] might be mistaken for sexy which disturbs young people's idea of their elders."

I'll never forget an incident 5 or 6 years ago. I was out for dinner with friends from a club we all belonged to.

I told them that I'd been dating a man I worked with. One young man actually asked-in front of the others- whether we were having sex.
My response was, "Every chance I get."

Would anyone have asked me that had I been younger?

OK - don't burn me at the stake. I am a Life Coach specializing in working with women over 60 who are in "transition". I have over 1200 hours of in-person training from the NLP Institute of California and my entire focus is helping women of a certain age embrace and honor the aging process as a natural one where we have NOTHING to be ashamed about, and in fact are becoming the elderwomen of our "tribe". I work primarily with older women entrepreneurs who are often burning themselves out by trying to keep up with their younger counterparts. We work primarily on self-care and re-defining what success looks like now. The coaching I do is a labor of love and I make very little from it. My joy comes from seeing the women I coach blossom into the wise women they are meant to be, with no apologies about their age, and who cherish the wisdom that comes with it. So lumping all Life Coaches together in one basket is s disservice to those of us who actually have credentials, talent, and make a difference. And, yes, I have come across many LC's who have little training and try to coach not out of their experience but by some rigid formula without any true understanding of their clients lives. I embrace aging, even though I have had severe Rheumatoid Arthritis since I was 36 and should be in a wheelchair by now. To keep myself healthy, I eat clean and well, strength train weekly to keep my muscles strong, and have a circle of loving friends. And, I am 70 years old and proud of it.

Crabby knocked it out of the park today!

I do get annoyed at the "youngsters" who think "boomer" is a proper appellation for all of us old farts. It slights me, a "war baby," and all those born before 1946. Hey, we're here too!

And a hearty amen to the person who mentioned losing doctors our own age. Regardless of how much I like my current doctors, I can't help worrying about the lack of experience that necessarily accompanies their youth. They are my son's age and younger. How much can they possibly know and understand about the physical/mental complexity that is me today?

I remember hearing my father say 'Should I do him/her a favor' when he was stopped at a stop walk for an elderly person who was slowly hobbling across the street. I was a teenager and horrified, but I didn't understand his fear of aging. I didn't think much about old people. They were part of the population was all. Then at 28 I met a man in his eighties who was a bonafide blowhard. I realized people are what they are no matter their age. I avoid obnoxious and rude people, and find more younger than older fit into that category, although both age groups are well represented. Everyone likes to tell everyone else how they should live, and it's silly. Period.

So this guy walks into a bar, orders a drink, (obviously not the first of the evening) The bartender says "How about them Yankees, think they'll win the pennant?" and the cutomer says "I don't wanna talk about baseball, I wanna talk about nuclear fission" and the bartender says "OK, but first lemme ask you a couple of questions" He asks "When a bear poops in the woods, what kind of a turd does he leave?" no reply from the customer. The bartender continues: "How about a buck or a rabbit?" Customer says "I don't know" and the bartender tells him; "Mr. you don't know #@it and you wanna talk about nuclear fission?"
That's about the way it is with life coaches who go around trying to tell granmas how to suck eggs.

Yay Crabby!!

Great post, Ronni. And I think that if there were more "life coaches" like Taru Fisher, they'd have a more positive image. I've never had one, and likely never will, but her clients are probably well-satisfied that they're getting what they paid for.

As far as long hair, I'm letting mine grow. At almost 76 I don't think I have the patience to deal with super-long hair (mine is fine-textured so styling it takes some time) but it's about shoulder-length now, so we'll see. I wear jeans and tees (even hoodies), and if that happens to "fool" anyone, that's their problem, not mine.

Although getting old is what it is, I don't think there's anything wrong with looking the best we can--even a few years younger--if that's our choice. It starts with trying to stay healthy, active and "in the game" which can't be a bad thing at any age. I think that's what most TGB readers are doing in their own way.

Great post Ronni! I really enjoyed it and many of the comments too.
I think we as "older folks" need to strengthen our resolve to educate our youngsters. As you point out, they've never "been in our shoes" and of course they will be our age all too soon. Once there was some reverence for older folks as the repository for wisdom (not that I think I understand what wisdom really is!) While I may have trouble keeping up with today's technology, I know I have learned many lessons that, had I learned them earlier, would have saved me some heartache.
When I was younger I had a hard time listening, just as many kids do today, but I got some wonderful advice from several people who were more experienced. I still revere those people today. How did those people manage to influence me? First, they were humble. Second, they were consistent and persistent! And finally, I listened because they liked something in me even though I was young and naïve.
I think much of the reason for age gaps comes from lack of respect…them for us, but also us for them!
I have found that when I listen to most young people, I find that they are real people with real problems. Problems I wouldn't have dreamed of facing when I was their age. I don't think I have answers for many of the problems young people face today. And when I acknowledge that fact, I find we can be friends. I learn; I appreciate; and then sometimes I can suggest things that may help. But most of all, I find I make friends. I like making friends no matter what age.
Please keep stimulating us Ronni!

So true :)

You consulted for an internet start-up targeting Boomers? That must've been EONS ago...

Oh my. I don't want or need a life coach. The 'kids' I worked with on the Obama campaign seemed to think that I and 2 or 3 dozen or so other elders doing just fine. We had a lot of fun and accomplished something good.

Bah humbug on life coaches.

When Nancy Pelosi, a vibrant old woman still working, can be treated as she was today by Luke Russert http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/11/14/nancy-pelosi-luke-russert-offensive_n_2130126.html
we know exactly which demographic needs "life coaching."

A really good post. It's time we got the truth out- that for many of us, it's been the best time in our lives. If health is reasonably good, we have freedom to do and think exactly as we want. Few compromises. My 60s-and now, I am discovering that my early 70s - are happy and fulfilling. Even a few health issues don't blunt the joy and freedom of these days.

The old bromide about never judging anyone until you've walked in their shoes, applies to all life situations, including getting old.
When I'm the butt of a condescendingly "humorous" comment about my age, I have a standard response, if and when I care to make one: "If you're lucky, you'll get to be my age."
The American attitude toward aging has always been based on the fear of a loss of mental and physical power.
Life's a journey; some of us are just a little closer to the destination. The important thing is to enjoy the trip.

I once took an online quiz about religion. According to the results I scored high as a Quaker. That surprised me. I read about them and learned (for one thing) that they don't want to take their hats off in a courthouse, because they don't accept that the judge is "above them". Wow! exactly! This is how I have felt ever since I was a little kid--that no one is "above" and no one is "below"! All the advisors in our culture bring with them the I've got the answer and you don't mentality. (Oh, and pay me for it!) Unfortunately, I can't accept all the God stuff, otherwise....I'd be a Quaker for sure. Great article. I could relate throughout.

You'd think it would be obvious, wouldn't you?!?

great article and so many good comments....i especially relate to bea's comments about respect and being friends with all ages.
i think too many elders are listening to the wrong people rather than to their own voice. there are boomers and the older elders...i am not a boomer. to me even they are still youngsters and to someone older than me, i am not in a position to speak for them either! we are accepting the point of view from those who have no experience . if we are crabby, it is no wonder when we have to be listening to the evaluations of a generation who has not been here yet! it's like an adult excepting everything a three year old has to say. sometimes they may be right, but one has to take their limited life experience into account. we are old...it isn't a dirty word!

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