As you and I age, what's the point of engaging? Here's why I do it.
Feeling Old? Discarded? Useless? Feeling like the target of ageism in a world focused on the young? You're hardly alone. I might have an antidote. Maybe. Stay with me here.
As an aging Baby Boomer, one of the challenges I face is how to stay relevant in a world that truly seems to hate the aged and elderly. Truth is those folks hate themselves, need an outlet, and the aged are easy targets. Hard to fight back with a walker, although a cane up the rude bum might put a stop to abuse very quickly. That, of course, takes reflexes many of us no longer possess.
What's a cranky old crab to do?
I inevitably am going to reach that point, if I'm fortunate enough not to break my fool neck on one of my adventure trips. I am a gifted writer (as long as you're comparing me to a Pet Rock, at least) and apparently more than a few folks find my stuff worth reading. That is part of my response. I write.
I write on multiple platforms. My writing touches a lot of eyeballs, and a lot of lives. Not everyone likes my work, which is as it should be. Some come after me because I am aging. Some come after me because I am aging and absolutely, positively living out fucking loud. That pisses people off because they aren't, even at a fraction of my age. How dare I, a doddering nearly 70-year old, take badass adventure travel and turn it on its greying head?
You and I as writers, most particularly if we are aging (look, shit, we all are, it's just that some of us really look it), have a sacred duty. That is expressed in this lovely quote from a woman who is approaching her middle point. Shannon reads my stuff and other folk's stuff on the Medium publication Crow's Feet. Here's why that's relevant:
...I am years (decades, really) from 70. As I close in on 50, I am starting to question my life, in a good way. Is this where I want to live? To work? Is this the body shape/fitness level I prefer? Am I living the life I imagined I would be at 25? Since the answer to all these questions is, “Not Really,” I am kicking my own ass into gear. I am looking at who I want to be when I am 70. What do I want to be doing and to say I have done? Now is the time for me to lay that foundation and hearing stories from Crow’s Feet writers encourages and excites me that all I want is possible, and likely more.
With heartfelt thanks to Shannon for calling out why we write, and why we tell our stories, AND why we get out and live the best life we can where we are and talk about it.
Shannon is why. While I am happy to laugh and reminisce with my fellow Boomers, perhaps what is far more important is to consider what our legacy can be. Those of us who write because it is who we are can potentially mentor, guide (don't follow me, for heaven's sake, you'll kill yourself), advise, and offer the most important part of life:
The kind of perspective which teaches humor. Grace. Acceptance. Strength. Courage in the face of life's insults, and those are inevitable.
It is hardly the only job of the aging to teach humor. Not at all. However, it is our job to convey how to use this skill to battle the onset of time- and age-related losses, unique to each of us. Without perspective, with humor, the prospect of forfeiting our youth becomes a terrible one.
As I wrote somewhere else recently:
For me, the final line in the sand that I can draw as a determined old crab scrabbling to hang onto my body, my strength and endurance is my sense of humor. Age will take my face. Age may move a few inches here and there, but it will not by god steal my ability to make fun of it. Eventually, the tides will claim my body, and what animates this skin suit will be taken away by the waters.
Only the aged and the aging can teach about how to age. I had a mentor for 33 years who passed a few years ago at 91. I miss her terribly, but there is no question that she taught me the importance of passing the baton. She died while I was riding magnificent horses in Egypt, which is fitting. She had taught me how to live well, how to age well.
My best gift to her was to be doing precisely what she had modeled as my mentor.
Lest my readers misunderstand me, the reason I poke fun at "Life Lessons from a 25 Year Old" isn't because they're stupid, or wrong. Not at all, for there are plenty of much younger people whose influences and input inform me daily. THAT I learned from other, older people- to not dismiss the young simply because they are young. What I do tend to dismiss are claims to know how to live before you have lived. It's because until you and I have decades of application, practice, failure, loss and hopefully, a load of laughter, we aren't exactly in the position of doling out "life lessons" in that regard.
I learn a great deal from any number of people around me of all ages, but I learn how to deal with aging from those older than I am.
Very little of what I apply now to life came out of books. It did come from watching others, asking, learning, and ignoring elders' advice only to find out how right they were. Not in all things, but in life lessons, often enough to embarrass the holy shit out of me.
Which, kindly is the job of younger people, only to learn things the hard way, then grow up and watch their own advice ignored by youth. You can't make this up. It's the way of it from time immemorial.
For those of us who write, let's mind what we write. For there are those like Shannon who are reading, watching, observing. We have no idea whose lives we are influencing, and how. I've made plenty of mistakes on these platforms, but the gift of feedback is beyond measure.
To my mind, and I can only speak for myself, the job of the Elder, The Crow Woman, the Crone, the Sage is more important than any other. It has nothing to do with money, reputation or any other damned thing.
For the Shannons of the world, who are facing down fifty, for anyone facing down the turning of another decade, we inherently and instinctively turn to our elders for how it's done. Even with all the idiot Influencers, the true Voice of Wisdom matters. At 68, I still look to my elders, even as I am an elder to many others.
Whether or not you and I as aging folks earn the right to be considered an "elder," which is an honorific, is up to us. For even as society may well hurl insults at us as we age, it's up to us to have the courage to ignore the ankle biters. In time it will be their turn.
Meanwhile it's this cranky old crab's job to laugh at the wrinkles, the creeping arthritis and the popping patella in my left knee. I've got a horse to ride, a body to train, and adventures to plan.
And write about. For I want to inspire anyone who has hope that not only is there life after sixty, but it really can a breathtaking journey.