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How Not to be an Old Person

Posted Nov 14 2012 8:30am

With so many baby boomers entering their mid-sixties, being old has become the new cool age group for the media. They vie among themselves for attention, intent on advising Crabby Old Lady on how to avoid being old – or, at least, to not be perceived that way.

They don't say it out loud, but the can't-miss message is that it's not good to be old. They never give a reason but it is obvious that old people behaving like – well, old people somehow offends the sensibilities of the world at large and especially younger people.

Apparently, we dress badly and the biggest fashion faux pas in their judgment is elastic waistbands. (Oh, what Crabby wouldn't give to live long enough to see how quickly they change their minds when they get old.)

They don't much like our hair either, preferring that the gray be colored away, and we simply must, must, must keep it cut short.

Long hair on old women, you see, might be mistaken for sexy which disturbs young people's idea of their elders. Well, they don't say that, but it's what they mean.

(Yes, yes, Crabby knows - it's confusing. On the one hand, we are supposed to look young; on the other, not too young. Crabby wishes they'd get their messages organized. She's having trouble keeping up.)

Crabby gets a lot of spam email urging her to hire a life coach specializing in “senior citizens” to show her how to be old and wonderful and get the most out of her later years.

Crabby already thinks she is wonderful and she is adequately fulfilled. But if you believe someone else (almost always a couple of decades younger than you) can tell you how best to live, go for it.

Do keep in mind, however, that there are no academic standards for life coaching and many get their “certificates” after a few hours of online training for about $500-$600.

Republicans in Congress keep threatening to raise the age of Medicare eligibility to 67 and the age for full Social Security benefits to 69 or 70. Crabby guesses that means their advice for the nation's elders is to keep working - an okay idea for people capable of it, but nobody seems to have explained age discrimination to Congress let alone physical impediments to continued employment.

Crabby sometimes wonders if those Congress people are in cahoots with “experts” who advise elders to start businesses. Of course, no start-up evangelists mention that about 33 percent of new businesses fail in the first six months, 50 percent are gone within two years and 75 percent within three – undoubtedly along with the elders' life savings.

Then there are the standard suggestions: take a class, join a club, travel, volunteer, find a part-time job – the ones you and Crabby have read hundreds of times.

None are bad ideas – Crabby Old Lady and many other old folks get quite a bit of pleasure from doing those things. But Crabby always has to laugh that the writers reveal them as though the ideas have been a secret until now and think they deserve a Nobel Prize for their originality.

What makes Crabby Old Lady laugh the most, however, are the websites and magazines aimed at elders (invariably called boomers because no one can be old, you know) where for every story about how to look ten years younger there are ten more about cholesterol, arthritis, diabetes, living with MS, back pain, cancer, painful sex, managing prescription drugs, heart disease and every other affliction of old age plus a few new ones.

Is there anything that says old to young people faster than discussing our ailments?

Not that Crabby believes it's a bad idea to talk about our health. That's always been a bad rap for old folks since until the boomers made aging popular, no one ever talked or wrote about what old age is really like and they still don't do a very good job of it.

With a handful of excellent exceptions, the media stuff floating around advising us about how to behave in our old age is written by people who are too young to know anything at all about getting old. Their only idea about our sensibilities is that we're just wrinkled young people and it's hard to be more wrong.

Many years ago, Crabby Old Lady was asked to consult an internet startup aimed at elders. The first question she asked was how many people older than 60 were on the staff. The answer was none and in fact, there was no one older than 39 or 40.

Crabby didn't take the gig but she gave them one piece of advice that she stands by today for any endeavor aimed at boomers and elders: you cannot talk or write intelligently about old people without having a few of them (at least age 60) around to advise you.

At The Elder Storytelling Place today, Mickey Rogers: Dad's Car

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