Over the weekend a friend who has been active in elder issues for many years said to me that he had mostly stopped reading about ageing, that everything important has been said.
We had other things to talk about and didn't pursue that line of thought for any distance but I recognized that without having made a deliberate decision, I too have been reading less about growing old for at least a year.
Although I still follow two or three dozen elder issues and topics in the news most days I am, after these 21 or 22 years at age research, a master at knowing from headlines and first sentences if I need to read further.
Books too have become easier to choose. With the exception of a handful of remarkable writers and thinkers, most often the answer is don't bother. There is a lot of repetition going on.
When I started studying growing old in 1995 – in my mid-fifties - there was hardly any popular or even academic writing about it and certainly not in any positive sense. Mostly it was about how awful ageing is and everyone should do anything possible, spend any amount of time and money to avoid it.
It was so widespread, I thought, “Geez, if it's going to be this bad, I may as well shoot myself now,” but I was too curious about how the future would play out for me to take myself seriously. (And I secretly never believed it is so awful.)
In books and magazines and videos and such, during the intervening years, a growing number of people have recognized that growing old has been unnecessarily maligned but nothing has changed in the overall culture:
After age 50, hardly anyone, no matter how qualified, can find a good job. Comedians still build careers with grandpa incontinence jokes. And the soft tyranny of ageist stereotypes in all corners of society continues without letup.
We are so accustomed to ageist representations of old people that even elders themselves don't notice. Here is an example from four or five years ago but if you pay attention, you'll see them every day.
This one which is widely used in many north American and European cities helps sustain the belief that old age is synonymous with sick and unhealthy. For the record, it is not.
Without having as much external input from others about growing old now that I'm reading less, here are some of the items that have been rattling around in my own head recently; obviously not fully developed (each one could be a blog post) but I think you'll get the point.
• My age is only part of who I am but because all people are trained from the cradle to reject old age, it is the first and, most of the time, the only thing others think is important to know about me.
• Of course, my age has a influence on how I see the world. At minimum that difference, after living all this time and always being a curious sort, is that I have a lot more knowledge and information to call on in making decisions and forming opinions.
Just because sometimes mine is not the “cool” point of view doesn't make me wrong nor invalidate my ideas. But too often old people are dismissed in what they say merely because they are old. And it is okay, in our culture, to do so with condescending amusement: “Isn't she cute, that old woman.”
• Too many old people are in the closet about their age - from extreme cosmetic surgery that is always apparent to being coy about the actual number of their years.
What the deniers need to understand is that every time they pretend to be younger than they are or lie about their age or present themselves as “not like those other old people,” they reinforce tolerance of ageist behavior. They are part of the problem.
• Those “get-off-my-lawn” old guys. (I suppose there are also women of this type.) Too often old people are their own worst enemies.
• Way too many younger adults are talking about what it's like to be old and how old people should live and arrange their lives. You are free to call me a slow learner but all on my own without help from anyone else, I have learned two – and ONLY two – truths I believe in, in my seven-and-half decades:
- With the possible exception of trained medical personnel, no one knows anything about what it's really like to be old until they get there.
- The second one doesn't apply today but if you're curious: If it is happening to me, it is happening to millions of other people
It is long past time when people who make decisions about old people, individually and collectively - whether they are scientists, social workers, caregivers or government policy makers – must include one and preferably more old people in forming conclusions and making choices that will affect elders.
• On a personal level, I am surprised that I haven't changed as much as I thought I would by now when I was younger.
For all the years I've packed on, I'm still carrying the same baggage from my upbringing as I did when I was 20 or 30 (I just see it more clearly now). The major emotional experiences of my adult years get in the way of my behavior pretty much as they did back then which is to say, not attractively.
But as I wrote a few posts ago, I'm done with self-improvement. Little, if anything, will change about me now. Maybe old people are all like Popeye: “I yam what I yam.”
There's a lot going on in Washington about meetings between Russian representatives and Trump associates during the election campaign and now in the White House.
Many citizens – even a large number of Republicans – are calling for a special prosecutor (or someone similar) to investigate these issues. The White House and many Congressional Republicans, especially those who head up intelligence committees, are trying to avoid doing this with the usual, "Move along, nothing to see here, folks."
This is just a reminder to keep up your calls to your representatives in Congress. I assume you have your telephone numbers. If not and you have a smartphone, you can download 5 Calls that makes it easy for you. It's available for iPhones and Android phones.
Last week, TGB reader janinsanfran who blogs at Since It Has Happened Here told us about another service she uses called Daily Action. Give them your phone number and Zip Code and they will text you a daily action alert. Obviously, you need a text-messaging phone for this to work but most so-called "dumb phones" can do that.