It has been seven or eight years now since I last did this, but there was a time when I regularly clicked around the web to read Facebook and blog posts by young people - late teens and twenties interested me the most.
The one that got me started was from a young women lamenting the approach of her 30th birthday. She was so distraught that I could almost see the tears running down my computer screen as she wrote about being over the hill, losing her looks and her sorrow that men, she believed, would no longer be interested in her.
These were always women - I didn't find any young men writing on this topic - and it was a surprisingly large number who wrote about being afraid to get older with lots of agreement from others in the comment sections.
There was no talk of dying, that was not the issue. It was about how awful growing old is - getting wrinkles and gray hair, becoming “ugly” (that word turned up a lot).
That 30-year-old I mentioned? She was the oldest I encountered on this topic. Most were 23, 24, 27 or so. Where do you suppose these young women get the idea that turning 30 – or, in a couple of cases, 25 - might as well be a death sentence?
How about living in a profoundly ageist culture. That would probably do it.
Last week, a long-time TGB reader and friend, Laura Gordon Giannozzi, sent me a link to an interesting story in The Guardian> by Australian novelist Charlotte Wood asking, “What are we really afraid of when we think of old age?”
After ruminating on the question, Wood, who is 55, comes down on this:
”I think the deepest dread is of being reduced, simplified. We’re afraid that, to paraphrase British psychologist and writer Susie Orbach, we’ll be 'robbed of the richness of who we are' – our complexity stripped away by forces beyond our control.
“This reduction is already happening with the cheerleaders on one side, the catastrophisers on the other. Ours is an all-or-nothing, black-and-white-thinking culture; we picture ourselves as either relentlessly active, plank posing and Camino walking and cycling into our 90s, or dribbling in a nursing-home chair, waiting for death.”
In general, we don't have much say as to which kind of old age we have. Nobody knows how to prevent dementia, cancer and many of the afflictions of old age. And even if different choices when we were younger might have changed our old age outcome, it's too late, once we're there, to do anything about it.
Of Wood's two types of old people, I find the cheerleaders more annoying than the doomsayers. They are usually the young-old who have won (so far) the disease and debility lottery who exhort us, as Wood points out, to go, go, go as if we were still 27.
These days I know all too well how foolish that is and I have found, even before cancer and COPD reduced my capabilities, that the best any of us can do in old age is adapt.
And that's not so bad. I've been doing it by listening to all the old people I've run into while studying aging for this blog over 16 years, and to the many smart people who leave comments here.
Woods appears to have discovered the imperative to adapt at a younger age than many of us:
”...maybe we don’t have to choose either extreme to dwell on...,” she concludes. “Perhaps, instead of capitulating to reduction, we can keep adding to our concept of how to age – turn our thinking about oldness into an art, and keep exploring it. Doing something to it, and doing something else.”
There are other interesting ideas in Charlotte Wood's essay and as I said above, worth your time to read. Let us know what you think.
There should have been a new Alex and Ronni Show last week but my latest medical prognosis, which I wrote about here, was still new and weighing heavily on my mind so Alex let me off the hook.
Now, here is the latest episode of the show, recorded yesterday, talking about the virus. (Is there anything else to talk about these days?)