Aging in Sneakers

This blog is about outrage against stereotypes of age, sex and marital status. I also rant about the medical profession and talk about comedy. When you put these together, being old, single and female completes the perfect trifecta, making you a target for society in general and the medical profession in particular.

I’m not amused when a fifty-something author jokes about not remembering her ATM pin number. I know my pin number. I also know my library card number and my credit card numbers. It makes life easier.

I’m even less amused when someone asks me if I use email. I tell them I build websites.

I don’t laugh at jokes about old people. Google “old people having fun funny.” Now try, “black people having fun funny.” We laugh at children, cats, and older people who are just being themselves.

It’s time to stop accepting a second place, subservient role just because you’ve had a birthday. Instead of quiet acceptance, let’s belt out the old George Jones anthem, “I don’t need no rocking chair.” Let’s recite Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gently into that good night. Old age should rave and burn at close of day …”

This is a blog for raving, for gym memberships instead of rocking chairs, and replacing calm acceptance with a few well-chosen four-letter words. I want to be blown out like a candle, while I’m still burning.

Why sneakers? I’ve worn nothing but sneakers for the last fifteen years (with a few brief exceptions, like the time my friend got married and announced, “No sneakers at my wedding!”). Sneakers are associated with having fun, relaxing and being yourself. Stilettos have become associated with female success; just google “success in stilettos.”

The idea is that people, especially women, should accept pain and discomfort in exchange for beauty. In the 21st century, when women are landing fighter planes on Navy carrier decks, this idea seems a little dated, to say the least.

Associating high-heeled shoes with success incidentally associates beauty with success, and for most people, beauty equals youth. In her book Never Say Die, Susan Jacoby has pointed out that women in particular are judged by their faces, even if their bodies are toned and firm.

Compliments are conditioned by “for your age,” as in, “It’s impressive to see a woman your age who is bungee jumping… or running a marathon… or doing stand-up comedy … or simply surviving without medications].”

Aren’t those accomplishments impressive at any age?

I may have to go down for the count but I don’t have to go there quietly. If you relate, this blog is for you.

Review of Marc Freedman’s new book

Marc Freedman’s latest book should be subtitled Prescription for Aging Well: Become Mentor to Younger People & Work With Children. Rather than break new ground, the book subtly reinforces some of the most common stereotypes of aging. For instance, “older people are more concerned with leaving a legacy than making money;” “older people want to nurture younger people and children.”

For instance Marc says he has three young children and no grandparents close by. “Our silver-haired safety net is located two doors down. Our quirky, engaging eighty-something neighbors …have become quasi-grandparents for our children… “

Freedman notes institutional factors that help older people: social acuity, Medicare and … AARP?! The truth is, many people avoid AARP because of their overly aggressive advertising (I stopped them by sending a public Facebook message) and because it’s not clear how they really help older Americans. In the last election, the two main party candidates differed significantly in their positions on Medicare and Social Security; one clearly would benefit recipients more than the other. Yet AARP remained steadfastly neutral, merely reporting what each side said.

AARP supported the drug “donut hole.” And AARP is, above all, an insurance company, which many people believe is sub-par in both value and customer service. You can just look at the comments under most AARP articles. r

Freedman points to Experience Corps as a model of ways to help both seniors and children. In fact Experience Corps seems to target “vulnerable older adults.” Their web page includes an excerpt from a newspaper article, “Older citizens have time on their hands and skills to share.” Really? Could this be another stereotype.

Freedman praises the movie The Intern as a “great example” of introducing an older person into a Millennial environment. In fact, the notion that older people need to become low-paid (or no-paid) interns seems preposterous. It’s not unusual for companies to hire executives who bring special skills to the table, even if they’re not familiar with all aspects of the organization. DeNiro reinforced many stereotypes — tech-challenged, always wearing a suit and carrying a briefcase. Today’s executives of all ages are likely to show up in business casual or even jeans and sneakers. A Pew Trust survey found that 67% of adults ages 65 and older say they go online, in contrast to just 14% in 2000.

Freedman takes a top-down view of aging, talking to people who create services, products or policy for older people. He talks to architects who offer innovative cross-generation housing. He talks to academics and authors. But the “boots on the ground” older people often don’t want any part of that. They want integrated housing but that means they want to live in an ordinary neighborhood or apartment with people of all ages. They want to work in real jobs for market wages and growth opportunities. These days, five years is a long time in any job, so they have time.

The truth is, some people — age 18 to 80 — just naturally enjoy working with children. Some others in the same age group would rather work in a for-profit environment as a contributor, not an intern. Some people are simply not qualified, by temperament or skill, to work with children. And many younger adults can afford to pay a coach or consultant to mentor them.

The workplace is the single biggest area of ageism (closely followed by the medical profession, which tends to pathologize medicate normal aging processes. See Christiane Northup’s excellent book, Goddesses Never Age.)

Finally, many older people aren’t afraid of dying. They’re more afraid of ending up in a nursing home, where many will be abused. They want to die with dignity. The advice to “accept your mortality” seems to apply to a specific segment of the population.

Review of Wisdom At Work: Making Of A Modern Elder

Chris Conley’s book, Wisdom At Work, may be approaching best-seller status and he’s collecting many 5-star reviews on Amazon. Yet if you read it carefully, the book actually reinforces the very thing he’s trying to attack – ageism. Conley defines himself and his relationship with AirBnB entirely in terms of age. He writes about taking on a new role in a youth-oriented company and getting a performance review from someone who’s thirty years younger. I winced when he reports asking someone, “Aren’t you old for an engineer?”

As an aside, Conley conveniently ignores the controversy surrounding AirBnB and its offerings. Millions of people have been displaced in urban areas as residential apartments become high-priced touristic AirBnBs. Just one AIrBnB can disrupt the community of a condo building or a block of single-family homes. There’s a reason hotels have trained managers and security forces. To be sure, some folks benefit from AIrBnB but we need to realize it’s a mixed bag.

The truth is, companies of all sizes have always brought in experienced advisors of all ages to serve as consultants and sometimes as managers. His role could be described without reference to age: he’ll be a consultant and his contribution is so great that the company will help him fill his knowledge gaps.

Conley’s not familiar with the nuts and bolts of tech because, in his previous job, he had people working for him to do those things. He doesn’t need to reach for a silly term like “mentern” to describe this role. In reality, today’s businesses are collaborative. If you don’t know something, you find someone who does. They might be older or younger; they just have to know what they’re doing.

Similarly, Conley’s tips on learning, counseling, and collaborating would apply to people at all ages. The founder of my coworking space, barely 35, would make many of the same observations.
Performance review? That’s a joke. If they don’t like his performance, he’ll gracefully bow out; it’s not like he needs the money or the status.

Anyway, Conley began his journey into elder hood at the age of fifty-two — an age where discrimination has begun to appear. It’s an age that’s not uncommon among senior executives or many kinds of professionals. Calling a fifty-something an “elder” seems a little silly.

In fact, the book seems to fall into the a new sub-genre of highly successful older people joining a millennial-dominated company. We saw this pattern, complete with stereotypes, in the movie The Intern and the book Disrupted. In all these narratives the senior male was the condescending sage and change agent, brought in my senior management solely because of his previous career status.

Conley references Meredith Maran’s book, The New Old Me. But Maran’s attitude is completely different. She wasn’t hired as a change agent and she attempted to fit in with the younger employees in her company. Her sardonic comments on her former coworkers seem based less on age than on the LA culture. As someone who’s lived all over North America, I can say that I had more trouble as a New Yorker adjusting to southern culture than as an “older” person adjusting to younger groups.

We will be truly age-agnostic when someone can apply for a position without having to be a sage or a wise old elder…just an ordinary person who will do the job. In any company, you’ll find people who like to socialize with each other and others — even the same age — who have different values and interests. They’ll get along on the job and who cares what they do on their own time? In any company you’ll find people who need extra consideration, whether they’re young parents, caretakers of relatives, or going through tough times.

I did find some good things. I love the quote from Eric Schmidt, the COO who told Sheryl Sandberg to “get on a rocket ship” and her career will take care of itself. The chapter on “counsel” is good for people of all ages. And some of the resources are quite good. Ironically, the selection of movies shows that people of different ages have teamed up for a long time.

Willie Nelson once said, “ I’ve known straight and gay people all my life. I can’t tell the difference,” We need more people to say, “I’ve worked with young and old people all my life. I can’t tell the difference.”
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“I don’t feel connected to that face.”

From a really good murder mystery by Harry Bingham, Love Story, With Murders. NY: Delacorte Press, 2013.

p 100: “Then I stare at my face in the mirror for a minute, wondering if it feels like mine. In Bram Stooker’s Dracula, the dark count is invisible in mirrors and I often feel something similar is true of me too. I can’t feel any deep relationship between the face that is mine and the person I am. Like they’re two different things. I don’t know if this is something that everyone feels.”

The heroine of this book, DC Fiona Griffiths, is probably in her 30s. And a lot of people who are “old” could relate exactly to where she’s coming from.

So it’s not just about aging … it’s about the feeling.

From John Leland’s Book: Happiness Is A Choice You Make

I wanted to like this book. I ended up hating it.

First, the guy is heartless. His mother had a DNR. On p 19, he writes: “Her DNR said to withhold care if she had no reasonable chance of regaining a meaningful life. But this was more like bringing in a hose if the drapes in her room caught fire. Afterward she would return to the life she had in her neat apartment. She had friends and grandchildren she loved; she had matinee concerts at the Philharmonic. People with much less enjoy great lives. It seemed ungrateful to reject that life as not worth living. If she wanted to starve to death she could do it without our help. We approved the tube.”

This is cruel and heartless. He’s clearly judging his mother and her quality of life. And starving to death isn’t as easy as it seems. He’s able to be more dispassionate with his interview subject, John Sorensen: “None of us really wants immortality on other people’s terms; it’s no kindness to wish a scaled-down version of it on the people who want it least.” (more…)

At 91 You’re Interesting If You’re The Queen

Writing for BBC Smithsonian, Ellen Barry (“It’s the Ultimate TV Prize: An Unscripted Queen Elizabeth” Jan 14, 2018) opens with:

“In the annals of television interviews, a drawing-room chat with a 91-year-old woman, watching home movies and offering occasional droll remarks, would not seem like edgy stuff.”

“But that all changes when the woman is Queen Elizabeth II.”

Those two sentences show a great deal about the world view of aging. If you’re of sufficiently high status, age becomes irrelevant. I’ve been saying this for awhile. Good things in age come from continuity. You can’t begin a new career, but some careers allow you to continue and even embellish on what you’ve done before. You can cement your status. You can’t build it from scratch. (more…)

The Ehrenreich Question: Are We Working Too Hard Because We Want To Avoid Dying?

barbara ehrenreich natural causes

A Review of Natural Causes by Barbara Ehrenreich

I wanted to like this book because I share some of Barbara’s attitudes toward health. Like her, I exercise for fun and even more for vanity. I eat what I want and forego medical screenings. Unfortunately, as other reviewers noted, the book turns into a rant that gets a little annoying. Overall the book suffers — on a larger scale — from the same flaw that undermined Bait and Switch. Ehrenreich takes a particular example from her own experience, generalizes, and editorializes. (more…)

Review of Third Chapter: Past Midlife And Searching For Meaning

The Third Chapter: meaning at midlife

The Third Chapter: Passion, Risk, and Adventure in the 25 Years After 50

This book seems to be about preparing for the years right at midlife — the fifties and early sixties — and just past midlife, which Mary Pipher characterizes as the “young old.”

As I’ve noted in reviewing other books, I often think it’s impossible to write a really helpful book about this stage of life because (a) there just aren’t a lot of choices for everyone and (b) there’s such a variety of people, health levels, skills, aptitudes, background and more. Sara Lawrence-Lightfoot deals with (b) by focusing on a small slice of the population: educated, healthy people without financial worries. Within that group, she finds common patterns: a yearning for something that can’t always be named, a resistance to change (possibly because successful people tend to resist changing a cherished identity) and finally a learning that differs from previous classroom experiences. (more…)

“You’re so wise…” is not a compliment

Someone posted on Facebook:

“My husband gave advice to a guy who’s feeling discouraged in dating. I overheard him advising the guy, ‘You can practice by talking to women in their 70s, just to learn how to relate to women as real people, and maybe get some advice on how to approach younger women.'”

So now the role of an “older” woman is to be an unpaid relationship coach to a clueless guy. And of course she’s filled with advice on how to deal with women in their twenties, since it’s been awhile and dating norms have, um, changed just a little. (more…)

“You’re Sick. Whose Fault Is That?” Response to NY Times Article

This article by Dhruv Khullar was published in the NYTimes.

Jan. 10, 2018 – https://www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/upshot/youre-sick-whose-fault-is-that.html

The author writes: “Behavior contributes to nearly half of cancer deaths in the United States, and up to 40 percent of all deaths.”

The first citation refers to a popular news magazine with no links to the actual study. The second refers to a NEJM article that draws the 40% statistic from yet another article, this one appearing to be a summary in JAMA, associating numbers of deaths with specific behaviors, with virtually no info dabout how that number was calculated. (more…)