What I wrote to the Times:
As an aging Boomer I’m appalled by this article. The headline suggests that baby boomers could “raise income” by working as low-paid service workers.The rest of the article reinforces the stereotype of “seniors” as caring and nurturing people who are more concerned with doing good and leaving a legacy than earning money.
This stereotype encourages discriminatory attitudes among prospective employers and clients in the mainstream, profit-oriented business world. Not everyone wants to play a nurturing role, nor are many suited to perform these duties. Yet prospective employers, most authors of books about careers after 50, and even organizations like AARP, assume that seniors aren’t interested in demanding, competitive jobs with pay commensurate with their skills.
Additionally, the article suggests ghettoizing the elderly. The idea is that people of the same age will find a “social bond.” The NYT would never suggest that people will find a bond on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or gender. Just being part of the same demographic doesn’t mean you have anything in common or even want to spend time together. .
Think of all the 70+ legislators and politicians who run this country. They’re not exceptional in physical or mental capability. They’re exceptional because they aren’t forced to walk away from meaningful, challenging jobs that bring them enough income to hire their own repair and transportation services. They have access to good medical care, not desperate doctors who force them into rounds of unnecessary tests and debilitating drugs. They’re taken seriously in conversation with people of all ages.
For a while Twitter had a hash tag, #elderlybooks. The purpose apparently was to reinforce stereotypes of aging.
Fortunately, it seemed to disappear on its own. Some examples:
50 Shades of Gray Hair.
Cartoon of an older lady: “Tracking my cookies? They will never get my recipe!”
Charlotte’s Lack Of Understanding Of The Web
The Five People You Are Going To Meet In Heaven Very Soon
What to Expect When You’re Expiring
Tuesdays With Who?
At first I was put off by the title of this book. “Senior Moment” comes with negative connotations. People of any age have moments of forgetfulness. Saying, “I’m having a senior moment!” puts yourself down and reinforces the stereotype.
Spiegelman reinforces other stereotypes as well. “After all,” he says, “at a certain age one doesn’t sleep well to begin with…” I’m curious to know the age he has in mind. I’m not young and I sleep like a log almost every night, unless I have jet lag or get pulled from sleep when the cat yowls.
On page 125, he writes, “One virtue any senior citizen ought to possess is patience…” and I become very impatient with this sentiment. Why give people an excuse to keep you waiting? Medical offices in particular assume that if you’re above a certain age, you don’t mind waiting, and they are free to squeeze people in ahead of you.
On page 153, he says that at the fiftieth reunion, nobody cares what you do … just how you are, with undertones of health. “Voltaire wisely remarked that after eighty all contemporaries are friends. They know where they are going and they are going there both alone and together.” I’ve got a ways to go before eighty but doubt I’ll agree, ever.
Age doesn’t guarantee bonds of common interest, and this type of statement encourages those who want to isolate older people; an improv class here in my city was targeted to “45 and older.” I’d be more interested in whether they were doing scene work, characters or games.
On page 29, he says, “Here is a formula for staying young well beyond the days of youth: Grow old in a place where you do not think you belong. You will feel like an adolescent, because adolescents always consider themselves outsiders. Then, after decades, just as you have gradually habituated yourself to your surroundings, pack up and leave. It is time for another, perhaps the final, beginning.”
That’s an intriguing idea, although I have trouble following along. I’m not sure why it’s advantageous to feel like an adolescent or why feeling like an outsider triggers feelings and behaviors of adolescence. I’ve lived in places as an outsider and I felt…well, like an outsider.
However, as the author of a book on relocation, I’d add that there’s much to gain from taking advantage of local color. Spiegelman refuses to get involved in sports talk, yet following the Cowboys and the Mavericks and (most recently) the WNBA Wings can be enjoyable and rewarding.
Senior Moments is a collection of essays, a series of first-person opinions. Having reviewed many collections of essays, I am surprised at my reaction.
Most contemporary essays delve into the author’s personal life, showing them in their most vulnerable moments, exposing their most intimate secrets. Spiegelman keeps focused on the bigger picture. Yet I found myself wondering about the more personal side of the story.
For instance, Spiegelman refers to his partner. Many essayists would share the details. While I admire his discretion and outward focus, I can’t help wondering what it would be like to live in Texas as a gay person in the 70s, 80s and most of the 90s. My own experience with the south is that everyone’s very interested in your family, love life and religion.
It’s not clear why Spiegelman devotes so much time and analysis to his 4-day high school reunion. I’ve been to one high school reunion and several college reunions. The best part of my college reunions involved spending time with very smart women and, in some cases, listening to good lectures and talks. The people I seek out now are not the same as those I spent time with as an undergrad; I’ve changed and they have. The bottom line is that everyone’s reunion experiences will be different, people have short memories and it’s not worth over-thinking the experience.
But the collection also brings us some special insights. I love what Spiegelman says about restaurants: even in the most upscale venues, you’re drowned out by noise. I can’t help wondering if that’s why the restaurant industry notes declining participation and declining participation. Why bother going out if you can’t talk to the people at your table?
I particularly resonated with the chapter “Quiet,” as I too search for silence. I feel for his question, “Do we really need CNN in airports or music in restaurants?” I would add, “Why are we forced to listen to television in medical offices?”
We forget that there was a time when people didn’t listen to music continually, due to the absence of portable listening devices. Some people have grown up with noise blaring in their homes during all their waking hours. They can’t handle silence.
I also like his thoughts on cars. As he says, driving can make it easy to be alone and even lonely.
And I resonated with the comments on reading. I also read compulsively, and now read shorter works and nonfiction, as he does. But I don’t share his puzzlement to find that very few people are reading books in flight. Airlines have become so miserable, it is hard to concentrate; I find myself escaping with videos myself. After all, you can’t read without turning up the earphones to a level that risks deafness.
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 for dress-up occasions). Sneakers are associated with having fun, relaxing and being yourself. Stilettos have become associated with female success; books have titles like “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 and running major companies, 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. Part of the pain of aging does indeed come from looking in the mirror. Even worse is the experience of being judged by one’s appearance. Compliments are conditioned by “for your age,” as in, “It’s impressive to see a woman your age who is bungee jumping, running a marathon, 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.
Some things probably shouldn’t make it to the Internet. Today someone posted on LinkedIn about turning 60. He wrote a whole LI article too for all the world to see. I’m sure he meant well so I’m reluctant to post a link here. But his post embodies many stereotypes of aging.
This guy writes: One thing that becoming an old guy gives me is the right to write an article about what I’ve learned along the pathway that constitutes my life.
Saying you get wise with age is just another way of saying that biological age is related to abilities and skills. I know a guy who’s 32 going on 45 and some people who are in their 60s going on 12. Saying that you now get the “right” to share your views is another way to differentiate yourself from others in a meaningless way. You’ll scare off potential friends, employees and clients.
So what if you’re 60? You’re an expert in some things but not others. Simply living a long time doesn’t mean anything. Just look at some of our politicians.
As it turns out, the wisdom he offers consists of a bunch of cliches and opinions that come out of left field. For instance, “A dog will mourn you when you die, a cat will eat you. Just sayin’.”
Sixty years of living to learn that?
Then there’s “Always take a leak in the other man’s toilet.” I have no idea what that means.