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April 2004

In denial over aging

category_bug_culture.gif Raise your hand if you don’t want to get old. I thought so - a hundred percent. Everybody wants to live a long time, but nobody wants to get old.

Even so, the closer the first of those 78 million U.S. baby boomers get to age 60 (which will start happening in two years), the more frequently there are newspaper stories about the joys of getting older, though anti-aging articles still outnumber them by - oh, I’d say a thousand to one.

That won’t last much longer, but meanwhile, one recent pro-aging pieces comes out of Britt Kennerly reports that local senior centers are having trouble recruiting young older folks – those in their 50s and 60s; in other words, boomers.

The president of one center, Jency Kelly, believes he knows the problem.

“They don’t want to come to us…I think they don’t want to accept the fact they they’re going to grow old.”

Senior center member, Dick DeLauder, a retired executive who is 60, agrees.

“Boomers don’t want to be called seniors,” he says. “They’re not aging, they’re maturing.”

And another senior center official nails it:

“We need to reinvigorate what old means and not be so fearful of it. I tell people, ‘What does that look like, ‘senior’? Get over your big self. You’re getting old.'”

And there is nothing wrong with that. We have demonized aging in the U.S. when in reality it is just another era of life like childhood, teen years, adulthood and now old age. I would like the word "old" to become okay. I like being old. I'm smarter than I've ever been, not scared of much anymore, know what I like and don't like. Oddly, I'm more curious than I've ever been and more politically radical than when I was an anti-war protestor during the Vietnam War.

And somehow they had me believing all my life that getting old is a bad thing. Not so. I think it's terrific.

Increase in internet use by older folks

category_bug_culture.gif It has been a truism since the beginning of the Internet that older people could not or would not adapt to it. I never believed that and now a new study from the Pew Internet and American Life Project reports that Americans over the age of 65 are the fastest-growing group to taking to the Web.

Katie Hafner, writing in The New York Times [registration and/or $ required] about the study, interviewed a group of older folks who have leapt into cyberspace to email friends and relatives, track down recipes and pursue their variety of hobbies.

And, as noted in a recent post here, health is not, as most commentary would have you believe, the only online interest among old people. Not even the biggest. Among the top search topics in a survey by Internet through Generations on Line, travel, history, hobbies and genealogy ranked with older folks above disease and illness, which came in at number six.

So far, only 22 percent of over-65s are online, but that is up 47 percent since 2000.

Even NPR fails older folks

category_bug_ageism.gif Linda Ellerbee quite rightly got her dander up over the removal of Bob Edwards as host of National Public Radio’s Morning Edition in this piece originally published in the Los Angeles Times on Friday. The implication, says Ellerbee, is that the NPR executives are looking for a younger audience and they believe only a younger host will deliver that. Says Ellerbee:

“Our trouble is, we’ve allowed young to define old. Golda Meir was 71 when she became prime minister of Israel, Michaelangelo was 66 when he finished the “Last Judgment,” George Burns won his first Oscar at 80, Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her 70s. But they didn’t do any of those things in 21st century America, where reality is a television format, celebrity is a profession, and age is a moral failing.” [Emphasis added]

Hear, hear!

Happy birthday Gloria

category_bug_culture.gif On her birthday in 1974, in response to a reporter who mentioned how good she looked "for her age," Gloria Steinem famously replied, “This is what 40 looks like nowadays.” Ten years later, she repeated that assertion on her 50th birthday.

Today is Gloria Steinem’s 70th birthday and although she is only seven years older than I, she is the closest thing I can relate to as a role model for getting older. In an age when growing old gracefully is more likely to involve Botox and a surgeon’s knife than accepting nature’s course, Ms. Steinem stood firmly for nature, in an interview from five years ago when she turned 65:

“…as I age, I notice my body doing something, and I want to see what it's doing," she said. "I don't want to interfere with that. It knows something I don't. It's like being pregnant. You don't know how to age, except intellectually. But your body knows.”

For those of you who may be too young to know, Ms. Steinem has been a feminist and political activist at least since 1972, when she co-founded Ms. magazine. In the decades since then, she has taught – just by being herself – uncounted thousands of us, more likely millions, what it means to be an independent woman.

And now she is showing us what it means to be an older woman. In a nation that prefers its older folks invisible, Steinem is as outspoken as ever as you can see from this recent political interview.

Happy Birthday, Gloria. I look forward to hearing you say, in 20 years, “This is what 90 looks like nowadays.”

New web design

category_bug_journal2.gif That fine new banner you see up top is the work of my young friend Fred LaSenna. I’ve worked with him over the past seven years at two different Websites and watched him grow into a brilliant designer. Besides being a world-class talent, he is a wonderful husband, a terrific father and an all-round good guy. How often do you find that all in one person.

I rely on him at work and I trust him completely on any question of design and taste, and I am honored that he agreed to do this banner and tweak the site for me. You can see more of Freddie’s work here.

Now that the site looks so grand and professional, I have no more excuse to let this blog lie here in wait as I have for several months.

Bill Moyers to retire from broadcasting

category_bug_culture.gif Bill Moyers, the host of the excellent PBS news magazine NOW with Bill Moyers, has confirmed his retirement, following the November election, from television.

The man who, before turning to journalism, began his public life as deputy director of the Peace Corps in the Kennedy Administration and served as special assistant to President Lyndon B. Johnson from 1963-1967, recently turned 70.

"All the septugenarians I've interviewed through the years," he says, "have taught me something. They lived long enough to turn their experience into wisdom, and to share it, which is the reason I wanted to talk to them in the first place; listening to the wisdom of the elders can be like tasting vintage wine."

Of the years yet to come, Moyers says:

"Truth is, the foreign country ahead of me - the seventies - is not as exotic in my imagination as my long-ago twenties or thirties. Trying to remember those years is like taking down an old map from a musty attic to discover the world laid out there is gone forever. So you give a quick check in the rearview mirror and a light touch on the pedal; all that's left is the open road and you're grateful once again to be on it."

I am grateful to Moyers for many fine programs he presented over the years. Television will be severely impoverished without him, and I fervently hope he will share his accumulated wisdom with us while he travels that open road.

40 Versus 62

EDITOR'S NOTE: This was originally published on 27 September 2003, but Time Goes By did not begin regular publishing until the following March. There is little point in this one archive listing for September 2003, so I've stored it here. It is the first entry.

category_bug_journal2.gif I posted this on my fotolog today about turning 40:

I had hardly noticed 30; 40 was the one that horrified me. I spent my entire 39th year boring friends with unfunny jokes about my fear of this impending black day. Then I read the card from Jim that accompanied the 40 perfect tulips I found on my office desk that morning. (The card said, “See how lovely 40 can be?”)

And Yolima asked, "How does 40 compare in retrospect?"

Looking back, I got sucked in by cultural attitudes about hitting 40, and I should not have.

One of the things that’s nice about getting older is that I’ve experienced enough not to be afraid very often anymore. I like that; I like knowing how to handle pretty much anything that comes along. I also like knowing that there aren’t many decisions, beyond putting a gun to your head, that are irrevocable, and that saves a lot of dithering.

There are things too that I don’t need to do anymore. I long ago proved to myself that nothing much happens past midnight except people get drunker and more boring, so I may as well go home early and get a good night’s sleep.

Time was I believed I needed to listen to all the latest music. But popular music really was better from the 1930s through the 1960s, so I haven’t missed anything much worth hearing since I gave up music radio about 25 years ago. And when it is any good, it bubbles up enough that even I become aware of it.

A paradox of getting older is that as I have less time on earth, I don’t feel so rushed. If there is something better to do today, I can clean house tomorrow; the dirt will wait for me. If I don’t get to the movie when it’s in theaters, I can rent the DVD later.

In the US, the biggest problem with getting older is that the culture does everything possible to force us to deny aging, or at the very least to not inflict it on the young. Television and magazines are awash in commercials for wrinkle creams, sexual aids and arthritis treatments. Older people are portrayed in TV and movies as mostly dotty old fools and that irritates me. Age discrimination in the workplace is rampant, and you have not lived until a 25-year old vice president asks in an interview, “And what are your life goals, dear?” American culture is pretty much entirely designed for the under-40 crowd, but that’s a rant for another time.

On my birthday each year, I set aside a little time alone to take stock, see where I’ve been in the past year and where I think I might be going in the next. Always, I have learned new things, grown in some small ways, and am generally more comfortable in my skin than I was the year before.

Best of all, I’ve lost my concern with what I look like. If there were any remnants of that, my fotolog has erased them. As I look back on the old photos to prepare them for the flog, I can remember disliking this photograph, thinking I looked ugly in that one. Now I rather like what I looked like then and only regret that I wasted so much time lamenting that I was not one of the great beauties of the world. I looked just fine – and I still do.

So, Yolima, although I didn't recognize it then, 40 was pretty good, and 62 is even better.