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Thursday, April 16, 2015

"On the Division of Our Three Score & Ten"

In 2013, when I decided to create writing and journal writing workshops for the 50+ crowd—as well as this blog—I had a hard time coming up with title.  The “Boomer” part was easy; it’s an uncomplicated and identifiable way to mark the lifespan of a certain modern generation: those born between 1946 and 1964 who seem to defy all generalizations about what it means to age.

But what about those just a few years older than the Boomers like myself?  How do we fit into the current reckoning of these “new” middle ages?  Or, as some call it, this “new” old age? 

And, more to the point, what should we be called?  Elders?  Oldsters?  I like Geezer for its playfulness, but know I’m in the minority.

The best I could come up with at the time was the nice vague “Beyonders,” a lifespan—and its concomitant rewards and challenges—remaining equally vague.

Today I stumbled on this article, from a New York Times opinion piece published in 2009, around the time perhaps that all this old age/new age conversation was beginning to take hold in the public’s awareness.

Titled “The Ages of Man,” it provides a brief look at how sages past have divided up the human lifespan.  It’s quite a revelation, but, more than that, it gives us an appreciation for just how historic aging in the 21st century—in the developed world—truly is.

Plus which, it's just a lot of fun to read.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

An Idea Whose Time Has Come: Geezer Speed Dating

Truly, nothing I can say--nothing--can improve on the following description of the movie, The Age of Love, and, most especially, on the trailer.

See for yourself.

THE AGE OF LOVE follows the humorous and poignant adventures of 30 seniors in Rochester, New York, who sign up for the first-of-its-kind speed dating event exclusively for 70- to 90-year-olds. From anxious anticipation through the dates that follow, it's an unexpected tale of intrepid seniors who lay their hearts on the line, and discover how dreams and desires change-or don't change-from first love to the far reaches of life. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Boomers Back in School

The first time I went back to college as an adult, I was 26 and recently returned from New York following a separation from my husband.  With only a year or so to complete my degree, I enrolled at the new Chicago campus of the University of Illinois on the near west side.  I’m not sure what my motivation was, other than to keep my mind occupied while my life was in disarray.

It was 1969 and, at that time, 26 was thought to be pretty long in the tooth for a college student.  I remember one day showing an age-appropriate classmate my driver’s license to prove how old I was.  She didn’t believe me, likely not because I didn’t look it, but because “26 year old college student” did not compute in her mind.

The second time I went back to college--to get a master’s degree in literature--I was an even older adult of 43.  This time, no husband was involved, just a lousy job.  It wasn’t the worst I’d ever had—that might have been at the shower curtain company—but for pure tedium it won hands down.  I’d read once that graduate school was the last refuge for the terminally confused.  And so, with nothing better on the horizon to distract me, I quit the job, got a student loan, and spent some of the best years of my life reading, writing, and, quite by accident, finding my life’s work: teaching.

This was in 1986 and, for some reason, even though I was significantly older than my fellow students, and older even than many of my professors, I didn’t feel old.  In fact, I felt new.  Everything I was reading, studying, writing and thinking about—the Western canon; American Indian Literature; the latest academic theories on reading and writing; best teaching practices—all of it engaged and excited me.

Both of these “returning adult” experiences came to mind while reading the following New York Times article, “Over 50 and Back in College, Preparing for a New Career.”  It’s about the rising number of Boomers who are returning to college, yet another result of this “new” old age, when so many people post-50 are planning a second, maybe even third career.

If you are one of those people, I think you’ll find the article both useful and inspiring:

Friday, April 3, 2015

The Country of Old Age

While I loathe the phrase “young at heart”—too cloying, at odds, even, with how the subject of the phrase imagined aging—I quite like the rest of this interview with, and about, Margaret Howe Freydberg, who died recently at the age of 107.

What I admire most about Freydberg was her audacity: she wrote her memoir “Growing Up In Old Age” when she was 90, and a collection of her work, "Poems From The Pond," is due out next month.

I also admire how she grapples with this huge life transition, this journey we all hope to make into “the country of old age”:

"I tell myself that I must see something in the mirror besides my wrinkled veneer if I am to have any calm, but I will have to make peace with the loss of smooth skin and find satisfaction in the gaining of something to take its place - something that has always been in me but has never seen the light of day."

As for what some of that “something” is, click here to listen to the NPR audio and/or download the transcript.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Journal Writing vs. Writing

In the past few days, I’ve been in touch with two people—one woman in her 40s on Facebook, and one of my geezer peers at a luncheon—to whom I’ve recommended journal writing. 

In the first instance, I suggested that C. sit at her computer, with a blank document in front of her, and simply write all the images, scenes, and memories that arise about a significant friend who recently died, in no particular order, and keeping the emphasis on the details.

In the second, I suggested that J. do some personal writing about the stress she is experiencing while caring for her ill husband.  I’ve conducted workshops in journaling to manage stress, and believe that the process can help people both understand and manage their stress, no matter the source of it.  (A belief supported by the research of psychologist James Pennebaker, cited in an earlier post.)

C. agreed to give my suggestion a try, and I look forward to checking in with her. 

J. responded that she was afraid that someone might find her journal, a common concern of those who hesitate to keep a personal journal.  I emailed her today and told her to just do the writing then tear up the pages if she was so inclined.  For while I believe it can be helpful to look back on what we write—to read what we were thinking and feeling at the time—it is more important to write, to use the writing as a way to both document and clarify thoughts and feelings..

These recent experiences put me in mind of what I always open a journal writing workshop with:  a discussion of the difference between writing and journal writing.

I begin with the three basic elements of any piece of writing, from a grocery list to a blog post to a journal entry to Tolstoy’s War & Peace:

a.     The Subject (what we are writing about)
b.     The Audience (whom we are writing to)
c.      The Purpose (why we are writing)

So every piece of writing is about something; to someone; for a reason.  The reasons may include informing; recording; reflecting; explaining/clarifying; persuading; engaging; entertaining; expressing.

In both writing and journal writing, the subjects can range far and wide, as can our purpose(s).

Which means that the major and only difference between writing and journal writing is audience.  Audiences for our writing can vary; the audience for our journal writing is only and ever the self.

Now if C would like to share her personal writing eventually—to pass on to family members of her friend, for instance, then she has to imagine an audience other than herself and most likely do some heavy drafting and editing.

But J. is first and foremost writing for herself; she doesn’t have to worry about another audience (although she clearly does, fearing that someone else might find and read her journal).  She can be candid, truthful, speak her mind, and, most important, not judge herself for doing so.  My hope is that she will find the process so helpful that the benefit of the writing will far outweigh the fear of some else reading it. 

Besides, she really can tear the writing up once it’s served its purpose.