I don't know about you, but the chirpy tales that dominate the public discussion about aging -- you know, the ones that tell us that age is just a state of mind, that "60 is the new 40" and "80 the new 60" -- irritate me. What's next: 100 as the new middle age?
Sure, aging is different than it was a generation or two ago and there are more possibilities now than ever before, if only because we live so much longer. it just seems to me that, whether at 60 or 80, the good news is only half the story. For it's also true that old age -- even now when old age often isn't what it used to be -- is a time of loss, decline and stigma.
Yes, I said stigma. A harsh word, I know, but one that speaks to a truth that's affirmed by social researchers who have consistently found that racial and ethnic stereotypes are likely to give way over time and with contact, but not those about age. And where there are stereotypes, there are prejudice and discrimination -- feelings and behavior that are deeply rooted in our social world and, consequently, make themselves felt in our inner psychological world as well.
I felt the sting of that discrimination recently when a large and reputable company offered me an auto insurance policy that cost significantly less than I'd been paying. After I signed up, the woman at the other end of the phone suggested that I consider their umbrella policy as well, which was not only cheaper than the one I had, but would, in addition, create what she called "a package" that would decrease my auto insurance premium by another hundred dollars. How could I pass up that kind of deal?
Well ... not so fast. After a moment or two on her computer, she turned her attention back to me with an apology: "I'm sorry, but I can't offer the umbrella policy because our records show that you had an accident in the last five years." Puzzled, I explained that it was just a fender bender in a parking lot and reminded her that she had just sold me an insurance policy. Why that and not the umbrella policy?
She went silent, clearly flustered, and finally said, "It's different." Not satisfied, I persisted, until she became impatient and burst out, "It's company policy: If you're over 80 and had an accident in the last five years, we can't offer you an umbrella policy." Surprised, I was rendered mute for a moment. After what seemed like a long time, she spoke into the silence, "I'm really sorry. It's just policy."
Frustrated, we ended the conversation.
After I fussed and fumed for a while, I called back and asked to speak with someone in authority. A soothing male voice came on the line. I told him my story, and finished with, "Do I have to remind you that there's a law against age discrimination?"
[. . .]
Yet too few political figures, policy experts or media stories are asking the important questions: What are the real possibilities for our aging population now? How will we live them; what will we do with them? Who will we become? How will we see ourselves; how will we be seen? What will sustain us -- emotionally, economically, physically, spiritually? These, not just whether the old will break the Social Security bank or bankrupt Medicare, are the central questions about aging in our time. (Lillian B. Rubin, “The hard truths about getting old,” Salon, 3 August 2011)
Thanks for the truthful article, though I'm glad several have pointed out that the life-span of U. S. citizens has not increased significantly in years.
The self-satisfied cretins who have commented, indulging in the very stereotypes you write about, show just how dominant age bigotry is. If the old wanted to be mean, they would point out that all these commentors will die someday. Of old age, if they're lucky. If they continue to push the stereotypes, they will know exactly the dismay the aged feel now, and one hopes they suffer for it. If they really believe they will be exempt, well . . .
You notice I call it age bigotry, not age discrimination. Discrimination is too polite a word.
I spent fifty years writing learning about writing. I'm smarter and more alert than all but a tiny fraction of thirty-year-olds. And that's being generous. I'm a better teacher than ever. I just published a fifth novel and a ninth book. I do calculus for fun. I know more about my art than the ones who do get hired will EVER know. But I can't get hired.
Betty Davis is reputed to have said, "Old age isn't for sissies." Amen. It takes a strong character to accept and understand that your body is getting weaker and you will die and though you might improve your situation with exercise and diet and activity, as I do, there is absolutely nothing you can do about the process as a whole.
Yeats wrote of "this caricature, decrepit age,/ tied to me as to a dog's tail."
I wrote this:
The old keep saying, You too will come
The young keep answering with a kiss.
One tries to remain accepting and even-tempered. Probably the most insulting treatment you receive as you get old is to be ignored, to be treated as if you no longer matter.
There's a lot of help here, kiddos. You could save yourselves a lot of grief by paying attention. But you can't do yourself any good at all by ignoring the facts.
What will it take before every human can understand the simple fact that time of life is NOT a firm and fixed class of people, but a phase, a temporary passage, and EVERYONE must go through it? Be proud of your youth, but you did not create it. And make no mistake, you WILL get old.
Ahh, but why should the young care? They know they will be young forever. (hontonoshijin)
hontonshijon, old coot at the age of six
RE: "I spent fifty years writing learning about writing. I'm smarter and more alert than all but a tiny fraction of thirty-year-olds. And that's being generous. I'm a better teacher than ever. I just published a fifth novel and a ninth book. I do calculus for fun. I know more about my art than the ones who do get hired will EVER know. But I can't get hired”
I'm wondering if you can't get hired because you know more than anyone on the planet, and thus whoever's hiring you is put in the humiliating position of pretending, however clearly preposterously, to be your boss. I'm not sure how old you are, but I seem to remember someone also aged and important and ever-wise arguing that novelists continue writing great things until they're about 50, and then slide hard; and I clearly remember Updike later in life saying that though he hopes accumulated wisdom makes his later books near equal sources of treasure to his earlier life-filled ones, he admits that everyone seems to want to default back to "Rabbit Run."
RE: Betty Davis is reputed to have said, "Old age isn't for sissies." Amen. It takes a strong character to accept and understand that your body is getting weaker and you will die and though you might improve your situation with exercise and diet and activity, as I do, there is absolutely nothing you can do about the process as a whole.
People who think it shows strong character to do such and such usually have been showing such character-establishing and other-deflating tendencies since they first started to define themselves. It might have been when you first broke your arm but mostly managed to stifle the cry, but my guess for you it was when you realized, unlike your enfranchised, dreamy, reality-denying peers, that life wasn't going to give you nothin' unless you worked your ass off for every square inch(!); a realization you probably had sometime around the age of 5 or 6, if it didn't dawn on you while within the womb, with it prompting your first newspaper route or whatnot.
In truth, to narrate your life so that you count amongst the virtued and noble for your ostensibly adult ability to reckon with inevitably flawed existence, is a wicked easy posture to adopt; it's in truth our near human default, as few people are raised to believe that making life significantly less flawed and far more, if not "unicorns, raucus fun and pixie dust," then at least drastically more leisurely, pain-free and fun, doesn't make you but an idle dreamer, a dumb child who won't grow up. With more and more liberals now actually sounding more conservative than conservatives from the 60s and 70s, we can expect the few true progressives that remain to be summed up and dismissed as children who won't leave behind their foolish ideals and do the adult business of dealing with the hard truths of reality.
RE: One tries to remain accepting and even-tempered. Probably the most insulting treatment you receive as you get old is to be ignored, to be treated as if you no longer matter.
You're attention is flagging, sir; best not get behind the wheel. Half the people here are reminding you that baby-boomers have not been ignored at any point in their life cycle. With them in their 60s, you can already feel how the only thing anyone is going to know is how life begins at 60, then 70, then 80, then after awakening from cryo. Since we're in a Depression, the poor will eventually be rediscovered; this will be the only way the youth will sneak in.
Re: Ahh, but why should the young care? They know they will be young forever.
I personally think they far more know the aged will never listen than that they'll remain forever young, something they haven't even really known. Most of the young are looking at two or three jobs and 60 hour workweeks, and if you listen to them their recompense for this true life-denying awfulness is that it has them feeling more adult, clearly -- and without all the wastings and wiping-aways that later life "provides" -- buying into the idea that denial and suffering somehow GIVES you something, when all it truly does, despite the saintliness it floats you, is deny. When a whole generation believes denial, wounds, and withering gives you character -- which this lot increasingly does -- the aged have enacted a sparse, neutered future as a big part of their legacy. Personally, I'm ignoring the aged who despite every attention, pretend themselves right to be aggrieved they're being so ignored and humiliated, and stick to or at least remember the boomers who showed the noble life is yours when you pheonix-like rise way above where anyone else has gone before, not when you accept the inevitability of blockages, hinderances, sags, and stop-signs.
Interesting how much you know about me, Patrick McEvoy Halston. Why you must be psychic, little boy.
I've read your other letters, and have a pretty good idea both of the level of your intelligence and empathy, and what to do with this particular letter. (hontonoshijin)
If it's to wipe your dripping bottom, wonton, I wouldn't depend on one measily letter ...