ELDER MUSIC: Country Chain - Part 1
Senior Moments and Dementia

Further Considering Elders' Working Lives

Last week in this space, we talked at length about how we earned our livings before retiring.

It was terrific opportunity for me to learn more about readers I've “known” here for many years along with now having a better sense of newer commenters.

Over the weekend I reread all those stories. As varied as they are, one thing many have in common is the long and winding road through various kinds of employment, some still continuing.

Another is the time and effort many women put into getting college degrees while marriages came and went and while raising children too. Ours is the first generation that went to college in large numbers and many of you worked against difficult odds to achieve those degrees, an effort I don't think is well appreciated.

But it is another kind of response I want us to consider today.

From Ruth-Ellen B. Joeres: “I feel vastly inexperienced when I read all of what you all have done.”

From Darlene: ”This is not the exciting career path that some of you experienced, but it was my rather mundane life.”

And Marcy Belson, who is a prolific contributor to The Elder Storytelling Place, emailed: "I've decided my life was quite boring and not worth writing about. I think I could sum it up in one short paragraph, 'Got lucky!'"

Inexperienced? Mundane? Boring? I don't think so. And that gives me an opportunity to reference a pertinent post from more than eight years ago.

It was titled (Extra)Ordinary Lives, and came about when a reader wrote to say she wouldn't be able to have a blog because her life had been so ordinary there was nothing to say about it. You can read the post here.

Which seems to be what the three quoted above are saying about their work lives. So I'll tell you (and any others who think you fit the category) what I said in that 2005 post: “There are no ordinary lives.”

It is a mistake to compare our lives to one another and anyway, I think old age is the great leveler. Here is why.

It doesn't matter if you were a rock star or a secretary, a bus driver or a captain of industry. After a certain age, your joints will probably ache, you will lose your hair or maybe your teeth, the diseases of age – cancer, diabetes, heart disease, etc. - are way too common at our age, not to mention the eventual visit from the grim reaper himself will catch up with all of us no matter what kind of career we had or if we had none at all.

Some of you may have thought your jobs were boring or mundane, and perhaps they really were, but that does not make you either of those things.

In the United States more than in European countries, we define ourselves by the jobs we hold during our working lives. Let's not carry that over into our old age.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Norm Jenson: Seven Steps


You are SO, SO, SO right!

That is exactly the point that was being illustrated by the photographs you featured previously which showed an old person looking into a mirror and seeing their young self (as whatever occupation they formerly held). That is, when the world sees an old person, they no longer have their former identity.

You could view it either as being stripped of your former power, or a chance to start over and create a new identity.

What do you mean "before retiring"? Who's retiring?

In the original post (linked above), I targeted both retirees and those near, at or beyond traditional retirement age who are not retired.

Since this post is about a different aspect, I didn't think I needed to repeat myself. Sorry if I was wrong.

Thank you for that, Ronni. I admit that I was feeling quite inadequate after reading what other women had been doing with their lives.

While most of my adult life was spent taking care of a family someone once wrote about all of the skills we use when we do that job. Beside the ordinary jobs of being a cleaning lady, laundress, cook and taxi driver we are organizers, seamstresses, accountants, teachers, counselors, et al.

So I will no longer think of my life as mundane.

Real wisdom in this post. Aging can be a great leveler--we start viewing each other as what we are, not what we once did to support ourselves and perhaps others.

I get your point, Ronni. At the same time -- now that I am engaged in delving a lot into myself as I try to return to work again on the memoir - I am constantly reminded of the way in which academics are generally viewed: as narrow, as specialized to the point of cutting everyone else out -- or, in my case, as having been repeatedly told by fellow graduate students in other fields, usually social sciences, "I see no reason to do what you are doing [in German Studies], what good does it do the world?" Or, as my friend and fellow editor of the interdisciplinary journal we edited for 5 years, said--she is a sociologist: "all you do is read and write, which anybody can do." I don't want to whine, but in comparison with the colorful and so variegated work lives depicted in many who responded to your request, I DO feel inexperienced! It's not a put-down so much as it is a fact. I don't feel inferior so much as I feel in awe. wishing I could live at least five lives...

I have not had time yet but am looking forward to reading all of the histories; must admit the first one I read did make me feel a bit inadequate. I've changed jobs fairly regularly every seven years, the majority in education, but not all. Sometimes by design, sometimes dictated by life circumstances. It kept my skills current, relating to Laura's post, with every move you loose your identity and have to start over again. But I have now broken the cycle, with my last move at age 54 seven years ago. I will remain employed as long as I am able, but have been rendered virtually invisible. Kind of hard to take for a more "l'enfant terrible" . . .

I formerly worked for our local historical museum and one project was interviewing people for oral histories. A common response to requests to interview ladies of the 'Greatest Generation' was exactly what you noted here- a self-deprecating feeling that their lives were not interesting or valuable enough to be worthy of capturing for posterity. I notice that it was women you mentioned as well. I wonder if this is not at least partly a gender issue.

Perhaps it was on this blog, but somewhere recently I read about an American visiting Paris. Incredibly, they said the most astonishing thing they found was that during a 2 week stay, NOT ONE PERSON asked what they did for a career.

I think often we Americans define others & ourselves by our occupation -- even if it's housewife, secretary, whatever. Even after retired, we still identify somewhat with our working past.

I didn't answer your other post so I'll do that now: I did get lucky in that I married a wonderful man and had a 30+ year marriage. However neither of us wanted children (no regrets), but always had pets (mostly cats). I didn't go to college, but did take courses in journalism and fiction writing.

I worked, off and on, at the local newspaper -- the last time as Lifestyle Editor/features writer. I enjoyed interviewing people about their lives, and yes, often they didn't think their lives were interesting. But I found everyone fascinating in one way or another.

During the times I wasn't working there, I wrote novels/short stories/poetry. I did try submitting some, and did get short stories/poetry published but not my novels. For a short time, one of the first publishers for e-books did have several of my novels in ebook form for Barnes & Noble. But went out of business, and I retained copyright.

Fortunately I'm now able to offer my work (nearly 20 novels/short stories/essays/poetry) at Amazon.com for the Kindle. My husband was in law enforcement, so much of my fiction is mysteries, crime drama or suspense/thrillers.

And I'm working on a memoir about my childhood (alcoholic father)... Yet I consider my life average, though I wish I could have had my novels published for print books -- through a publisher.

Trena and others...
An answer to those of any generation or gender who think their lives are not worth recounting:

When I read history, there is hardly anything about what I'm really interested in - what was daily life like in ancient Rome or Greece, medieval Germany or England or France or anywhere else.

I want to know about cooking and cleaning and child raising. Did children have chores then as now? How often did people bathe? How did ordinary people (not kings and queens) decorate their homes?

What happened when someone broke a leg? How did they spend their leisure time? And on and on.

You never know what future generations will want to know about things we take for granted in our own time.

I didn't elaborate before, but I couldn't agree more with you Ronni. Real lives in all their messy, intricate detail are the most interesting part of history to me as well. Every person has a fascinating life story that likely includes humor, heartache, love and loss- the stuff of all great stories!

I just found it interesting how often women particularly de-valued their personal history. I would guess it partly has to do with the way our culture placed/places value on professional careers over the home-making careers many women had. For women raised prior to the women's lib movement though, it may also be a result of having grown up in a culture in which history was written by and about men, with women appearing only when they did something extraordinarily unusual.

For those of you interested in the daily lives of people of a different era: I'm currently reading "London Labour and the London Poor," a four-volume work by Henry Mayhew originally published in 1861-1862. It's a fascinating study of London life and work, described by the author as "those that will work, those that cannot work, and those that will not work."

My own life has been a series of poor judgment calls, physical and psychological abuse by those who supposedly loved me, and, somehow, I'm still kicking.

My dad shared a dining table at his assisted living home with a "retired" chicken farmer. Dad was fascinated and awed by the man's life. Nicest part, dad had something new to tell me about chicken raising almost every day for a couple of weeks.
All our lives are different and worthy...

I had a total of 28 jobs during my working years, and I was at my last one for 20 years. I was, and still am, a free spirit. To me, there was always more to life than working, which meant I'd work to make enough money take off and travel again. Around age 40 I settled down and found a job I loved or was it that I found a job I loved and settled down. There were also two marriages, a wonderful long-lasting relationship, which ended when he died, so in retirement I started traveling again.

Work, whatever job it was, gave me the opportunity to live life the way I wanted. I'm happy.

All I can say is, Here here! I am constantly amazed at the stories people can tell about their lives, seemingly ordinary average people. It made me realize you just never know what an ordinary-seeming person is really sitting on. Right you are Ronni, there are no ordinary lives, every one is extraordinary.

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