Monday, February 6, 2017

Combatting Ageism Among the Ageing

Annamaria on Monday


This rant is inspired by comments made on this blog in a past couple of weeks, but also by a discussion with a dear friend during the marvelous Icelandic Noir conference shortly after the last US election.  There, a young woman, a friend I love, was outraged at the results, as was I. She demanded a way for the American people to overturn the election, in the course of which she attacked the US Supreme Court as a group of people too old to make decent judgments.  “What are they?  People in their 70s?  They can’t even think anymore.”

I did not reveal, at that moment, the irrelevant fact that I am seventy-five years old.  And, mirabile dictu, I can still think.  I do not blame that wonderful woman for her ageist attitudes.  A great deal of the world at large agrees with her conviction: When people get old, they get stupid.


A corollary to this “truism” is that one should try, if at all possible, to pass oneself off as younger than one is.  When I tell people my age, they urge me not to reveal it.  “You don’t look that old.”  “You seem much younger.”  “Why tell people that?  You could pass for ten years less.”  They don’t understand.  When I disclose my age, I am bragging.  You see, I am now 25% older than my poor mother was when she died.  Having reached my current age is something for me to rejoice over.  Not only am I still alive, I am vital, brimming with energy, with goals and plans that will keep me busy for every coming day that I get to spend on this marvelous planet.  I take no credit for the current state of my health.  I chalk it up to good genes and good luck.  I know many people in my age cohort who are doing great work.  And you can bet your pettootie I am not going to waste a second of whatever time I have left.  I refuse to accept the notion that being old means being wasted and useless.


What angers me most about the ageist attitudes so prevalent in the world today is not the beliefs of the young, but the self-deprecating behaviors of the aging.

Oh, I understand that people begin to fear the loss of their own potency and some become terrified that they will succumb to that cruelest of diseases—dementia.   But sitting at a dinner table and not being able to remember immediately the name of that actor whose first name is Jeff is NOT a symptom of incipient Alzheimer’s disease.  Believe me, I have first hand knowledge of what the onset of that disease looks like, and that is not it.

Every once in a while, I too find my memory a little recalcitrant.  I think we all need to chalk that up to the passage of time, but not to the slippery slide into incompetence.  I see another issue.  The more information in the filing system, the longer it takes to retrieve any particular item.  True!  People over sixty have a lot stored in their heads—experiences, incidents, people, facts, philosophies.  Our brains are alive with all those data points.  All of which make us valuable for our insights and our wisdom.  So what if it takes a minute to come with Bridges or Goldblum or Daniels or Chandler.  But we get embarrassed and chalk the delay up to old age.

PLEASE don’t do that.  Just say “You know the one who played Chamberlain in Gettysburg” or “You know The Great Lebowski.”

You see every time people with gray hair (or the moral equivalent thereof) blame some little memory blip on aging, we reinforce the notion that we are all over the hill.  We need instead to start sticking up for who we are.


I offer here a couple of sentences the aging should NEVER say:

“I am having a senior moment.”

No you are not.  The last time you had a senior moment was just before you graduated from high school.  If you use this phrase you only perpetuate the notion that anyone older than sixty must be impaired and cannot be trusted to function well.

“I have paid my dues”

I cannot tell you how I hate this miserable excuse for resigning from life.  People who say this are really saying that they no longer want to do what ought to be expected of them as members of society.  Do not let yourself off the hook.  The alternative is to sit on the sofa and wait to die.  If that is your idea of being alive, I suggest you go into therapy.  If you are infirm, you have every right to claim infirmity.  If you are not infirm, use the gift life has given you.  Wasting it would be a sin.  When my father was 89 he had a regular gig driving what he called “the old people” in his community to their doctor appointments.  When I grow up, I want to be like him.

Take a look at these people and think about what it meant to them to have a “senior moment.”  When you grow up, don’t you want to be like them?

Judi Dench was 60 when she got her first starring role in a film

Norman Maclean was 76 when he published his
first fiction, The best seller, "A River Runs Through  It"

Fauja Singh ran the marathon when he was 100

Grandma Moses had her first art exhibition when she was 78

Olympia Dukakis, won an Oscar when she was 56,
and became an "overnight" success

At 79, Mel Brooks wrote the words and music for his first Broadway hit show--
"The Producers"

26 comments:

  1. Thank you, sis, for only using my name, not my photo.

    People ask me all the time why I spend my life on Mykonos where everyone is so young. I just stare at them...and not because I don't recognize them. :)

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    1. Thank you for not saying what you are thinking about when you stare

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  2. Wait. What? Jeff's an ACTOR? I knew he was sleazy, but I thought he was a LAWYER. Sheesh. There goes my spiritual transformation. I need another post from Susan...

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    1. PS. I like your attitude, AmA. You're really gonna be SOMETHIN'... when you grow up.

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    2. Growing old is mandatory. Growing up is optional.

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    3. This probably isn't the place to mention that Susan is actually a lawyer too....

      LOOK OVER THERE! JAPAN!

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  3. I agree absolutely, of course! And I couldn't remember actors' names even when I was a senior in your sense!

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    1. Yes! I knew you would agree, Michael. And I distinctly remember, from time to time in my twenties, going to the fridge, opening the door, and forgetting what I went there to get. So what?

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    2. I do that too! I guess one only has to worry when you forget it's a fridge...

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  4. I think I was born at 60 and have been growing younger ever since. You are a puddlejumper AM and always will be. Age has nothing to do with it, it's the spirit in the heart that counts.
    I loved Singh's thoughts on marathon running; He trains for the first twenty miles, his faith gets him through the last six.

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    1. Yes, Caro. We can't halt the passage of time, but we can decide how we want to deal with it. Steering clear of naysayers is a big part of staying fully alive. I hate it when people naysay themselves. I can't imagine you doing that. I would jump up and down in a puddle with you anytime!

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  5. When I spout occasional words of wisdom (it has always been a rarity) and get looks of amazement my usual reply is, "I ain't dead yet!"

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    1. Jono, Years ago, when the Monty Python crowd was performing on Broadway, I bought myself at the souvenir stand a button that reads "not dead yet". I have it somewhere. Thanks to you I'll remember to dig it out and wear it!

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  6. Thank you! I needed this! Love, Molly

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    1. My pleasure. I will be the Bay Area in late May. Hope to see you then. Sending big love to all the McBradfords.

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    1. You are very welcome, Susan. I'm glad you liked the post. Come back again soon.

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  8. Very good sentiments in this post.

    As many people say about aging, "consider the alternative."

    There is so much to do. Two friends who just had their 77th birthdays never stop going. One just published a book; the other never stops doing things, exhausting her younger friends.

    My mother was very active, going on long walks, doing exercises until she was 89 and got dimentia.

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    1. Hi Kathy, I'm not sure what Jeff means by that crack, but I will just ignore it. I sometimes fear that I am exhausting to my friends as well. Fortunately for me, I have had many of them for decades, and they know my energy level. If they were going to stop liking me, they would have done it along time ago. All I know is I can't stop moving.

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  9. Well said, my friend. My story, like yours, is that our brains are so full of information, it gets harder to find what we know is there. And I am sticking to it!

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    1. Triss, as usual we are proven soul sisters!!

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  10. Thank you for the reminder, Annamaria - I've never minded age, or thought less of anyone for theirs (though I confess to sometimes making at least one of the above comments, without thinking, that I've since tried to cut from my vocabulary!)

    You are a dear, vibrant, beautiful person - at any and every age!

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    1. Thank you, Dearest. I have to admit that I feel more alive now than I often did when I was much younger and didn't trust myself as much. A friend who just turned 70 called her age "unthinkable." You KNOW I went to work on her for that.

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  11. Definitely keep on keeping on doing what you're doing.

    By the way, I love that slogan, "Keep calm and grow old disgracefully." We're all going to have to with certain people running this government. A lot of "disgraceful" women who "persist" will just have to keep on speaking up and more.

    Rep. John Lewis, Civil Rights icon, has said, "Stand up and keep marching!" Yep.

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