I suspected that I might find a kindred spirit in Anne Karpf, and her excellent article in the Guardian about why we shouldn't fear getting old confirms it. Karpf writes of the turning point in our twenties when disdain for those younger than us turns to disregard for our elders, and the consequent body dysmorphia, “propelled at least partly by a fear of ageing, [that] has become a cultural condition.” So many adolescents are getting Botox injections that there’s a name for it: “teen toxing!”
When I moved to a Brooklyn neighborhood with a median age of around 23, I said to myself that it would be time to move when I could no longer hustle up the subway steps as fast as the kids. In the eight years since, I’ve gotten a little wiser. Now I’m planning to let the hipsters pass, or help me with my shopping bags. I’ve even figured out that it’ll be good for both of us.
A friend recently put me in touch with Sharon Raphael, a gerontologist and Professor Emerita of Sociology at California State University and an early member of Old Lesbians Organizing for Change. Their primary mission, Raphael wrote me, was “to fight and educate about ageism as it affects women and Lesbians and others within and without the lgbt community.” I’d heard of the organization, was pleased that Raphael thinks my work is on the right track, and am grateful for a lengthy email “about our herstory so you don't have to reinvent the wheel.”
I first encountered this phrase of geriatrician Joanne Lynn’s in 2008, andI liked it right off the bat. It’s a straightforward way to bridge the us/them divide, to connect empathically with our future selves. As Simone de Beauvoir put it: “If we do not know who we are going to be, we cannot know who we are: Let us recognize ourselves in this old man or in that old woman. It must be done if we are to take upon ourselves the entirety of our human state.”
In the pile of mail awaiting my return was the Fall Fashion issue of New York magazine, with a chic young woman on its cover. Yawn. “When it came time to cast the cover, we decided . . . to embrace a more expansive view of beauty,” writes Amy Larocca. “We came up with four cover subjects: an 81-year-old woman; a 19-year-old man who can pass quite convincingly as a woman; a mother and daughter . . ; and an old-fashioned yet newfangled muse.” Turned out that my copy just happened to sport the muse, and I stopped yawning.
In his op-ed piece in today’s New York Times, David Brooks points out that conceiving of old people as detached, depressed, and ineducable is not just outdated but wrong. “The research paints a comforting picture,” he writes. Then the editorial runs into trouble, starting with its title, “The Geezers’ Crusade” — and not the geezer part.
My new year’s resolution is to start integrating more personal reflections into the blog. No better place to begin than a BBC News story that came my way last week about a link between youthful looks and longer lives. Studies show younger-looking twins in both Denmark and the UK outliving their siblings. As ever, it’s a dance between genetics and environment. Worn faces probably reflect harder lives, and those subjects also had shorter telomeres (pieces of DNA that protect the ends of chromosomes from deteriorating).
On Veterans Day, PBS aired a documentary called "The Way We Get By." Much of it was shot in Bangor, Maine’s tiny airport, where flights from military bases all over the U.S. and inbound from Iraq and Afghanistan stop to refuel. Filmmaker Aron Gaudet’s mother Joan is one of the Maine Troop Greeters: a group of older men and women who’ve taken it upon themselves to shake the hands of every soldier passing through.