My partner and I are just back from a three-week trip to Vietnam, where we encountered people from all over the world, including Finland, South Africa, New Zealand, Luxembourg, Singapore, Canada, Holland, and Moldova. Most were far younger than us, some our age, and a notable few significantly older.
In an excoriating piece in Truthdig, columnist Chris Hedge labels Hurricane Sandy “the Katrina of the North.” He begins and ends with 76-year-old Avgi Tzenis, whose house in Sheepshead Bay, Brooklyn, was wrecked when three feet of water and sewage swept through it five weeks ago. She was widowed last year after nursing her husband through years of dementia, and has no idea how she’s going to pay for repairs.
“A friend knows an actress whose alarm code—2828—reminds her of the age she must never surpass. (The repetition adds a touch of hysteria, which I like.),“ writes Carina Chocano in an essay in last Sunday's New York Times Magazine. It’s a sharp reminder of how early ageism kicks in for women, especially in LA, where Chocano lives.
Older models (as in a lot older) are getting a lot of attention lately, with 91-year-old New York style icon Iris Apfel on the cover of fashion magazine Dazed & Confused (and rockin’ the look in Comme des Garçons' Rei Kawakubo). As Sarah Ditum comments in the Guardian, this upends some preconceptions in a modeling industry that encourages 20-year-old aspirants to knock a few years off their ages.
That’s the card I bought to thank London friends for hosting my talk, Old Age Sucks and It’s Going to be Great, last Wednesday night. It was well received by a bunch of smart people, among them my younger colleague in the Sehgal piece at the Tate Modern, Will Jennings, who gently corrected my statement that most people don’t want to think about getting old. “My generation does,” he said, “You grew up in a period of plenty, but we’re aging into scarcity - no pensions, no job security, no water – and we have to think about it.” Point taken, and it’s why it’s so terrific to have all ages in the audience.
When we’re young, the masses on the far side of some distant threshold are Old. This habit – sorting people into Old or Young - sticks with us as we grow up, and it’s too bad. In an ageist society, the old/young binary consigns two thirds of the population to the less desirable side. The divide also belies experience, because it doesn’t exist. We’re always older than some people and younger than others. Age is a continuum.
I've been invited to speak on the opening night of KoFest, an arts festival in Amherst, Massachusetts, whose theme this year is "An irreverent and intergenerational look at age & aging." The banner promises "outrageous humor I puppets I juggling I uncanny beauty". That leaves me humor, so I'm hard at work at something approaching a monologue.