A good friend passed on a DVD of my This Chair Rocks talk to a filmmaker acquaintance, who had a serious critique. She found the talk compelling and called me “a smart and wise cheerleader for this next passage,” but continued, “What I felt missing in her talk was death. She moved quickly over it, saying that her big surprise was how little older folks feared death. I think she is wrong, but she has been immersed in this research far longer than I have. I think we [all] fear death; it is the great unanswered question.
I had fun talking with KMO, creator of the geeky and wide-ranging C-Realm Podcast, and I think he did too. Posted on Wednesday, May 8, the podcast covers a lot of interesting territory, from ageism in society to mortality, the U-shaped happiness curve, Ted Kaczynski’s ruminations on “primitive man,” and how KMO used to scare baby boomers into buying health insurance.
That’s the title of a piece by Tim Kreider on the New York Times Opinionator blog, and I hope it’s not news to everyone who passed me the link. Some of Krieder’s other eye-popping observations: you’re not getting any younger. You have to say goodbye to your childhood home. The old and infirm are pretty much missing from movies and TV. (There’s a term for that: symbolic annihilation.)
By way of swag, everyone attending last week’s five-day Columbia Journalism School Age Boom Academy on “Covering the myths and realities of aging in America” received a canvas tote packed with print hand-outs. I was struck by a juxtaposition between two that I read the first night.
On March 21-25 I attended the 12th annual Age Boom Academy, a seminar for journalists covering “the myths and realities of aging in America.” Billed as a Joint Program by the Columbia Mailman School of Public Health and the Columbia Journalism School, it was sponsored by the Atlantic Philanthropies, AARP and The New York Times and took place at Columbia. (Previous Age Booms were held at the International Longevity Center and hosted by Bob Butler, whom I sorely missed. It was terrific and I’ll be writing about it more substantively, but in the meanwhile here are some thoughts from assorted speakers that stuck with me.
In a characteristically mordant piece called “Daddy Trouble” in this month’s Atlantic magazine, Sandra Tsing Loh coins the term Elderschadenfreude to describe “the secret pleasure of hearing about aging parents that are even more impossible than yours.”
Two friends sent me links to a piece by James Ridgeway’s piece in the Guardian about the future of growing old in America.(Bottom line: not looking good. Better to be British, though not for long or by much.) What caught my eye wasn’t the greedy-geezer-rebutting statistics that millions of older Americans can expect to keep working or to be poor – or both. It was the first line: “In her remarkable book The Coming of Age, Simone de Beauvoir observed that fear of aging and death drives younger people to view their elders as a separate species, rather than as their own future selves.”
When I first learned that the oldest Americans are the happiest, I was skeptical. I was still in the grips of the cultural bias that drowns out positive messages about late life. Also, happiness is notoriously difficult to measure. (Ask me right after I’ve eaten a chocolate chip cookie.) So I was intrigued when a counterintuitive factor behind contentment — at any age — surfaced in a recent study in the Journal of Positive Psychology.