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March 1, 2022

 

Hi there, 

 
I recently took over a local women’s book club on Meetup.com and hosted my first in-person meeting last Saturday. It was nerve-wracking. This club has over 800 members and has met monthly at one library or another for the past eight years until the pandemic, when it moved to Zoom. About 25 people come to meetings—outspoken women that the last leader, a former schoolteacher, wrangled into submission. She ran a tight ship where everyone got to speak for a few minutes, and then hands were raised for further comments. But I’m not a former schoolteacher and have no interest in enforcing discipline. I wanted to run a smaller group, so I limited the attendees to 15 to make it manageable. But I was still nervous.

We met outside at a Panera that graciously hosts many local groups. I was unnerved when the previous leader showed up, sure that she was there to judge me. The book—Joyce Maynard’s latest about marriage, divorce, and death in a dysfunctional family—was a hit and perfect women’s group material. I aced it. I maintained some control, but the group was pretty relaxed. I started by asking them to weigh in on what they thought of the book, making sure everyone got to talk at least once, then after the first go-round, I threw it open to discussion. When someone veered off topic, I tried to gently bring them back by asking a question about the book. (I used the online book club questions that I found by googling.)

Everyone told me afterwards what a great discussion it was—even the former leader. The acid test was how many people would sign up online for the next meeting. All 15 slots filled up the next day. Whew! Maybe I do know what I’m doing. 

I’m Erica Manfred, Geezer Geek, Snarky Senior, and author of I’m Old so Why Aren’t I Wise? I moved to Florida alone in my trusty Ford Focus seven years ago from upstate New York and haven’t regretted it. I’ve always written about my life, and now that I’m old, aging and ageism are what I care about most. I’m writing this newsletter as part of the event platform Life Experienced. Each week, I’ll be exploring what matters to us later in life, from finding community to nuts-and-bolts stuff like figuring out our phones. I’ll also be interviewing inspiring seniors. Know someone we should feature? Email us at Info@LifeExperienced.com or join us on Facebook.  

 

Ashton Applewhite, author of This Chair Rocks: A Manifesto Against Ageism, is the Gloria Steinem of the anti-ageism movement. She didn’t invent it, but she is the movement’s tireless cheerleader, spearheading it with books, speeches—including a TED Talk—her Twitter feed, her website, and Old School, a repository of resources about ageism. If we didn’t have Ashton Applewhite, we’d have to invent her.

We spoke about why ageism is so harmful to everyone no matter their age and about recent advances in the movement.

Why is ageism so important to eradicate? 
From childhood on, we’re barraged by messages that it’s sad to be old. That wrinkles are embarrassing and old people are useless. Ageism—in society and in our own age-denial—divides and diminishes us. Ageist myths and stereotypes cripple the way our brains and bodies function and portray elders as burdens to society. It’s time to work together to make discrimination on the basis of age as unacceptable as any other prejudice.

Why do you have a problem with the focus on successful aging?
All aging is successful. Otherwise you’re dead. Even though we all want to keep doing the things we love doing, goalposts inevitably shift. Measuring how successful we are by how closely we resemble our younger self is false consciousness. I call it the tyranny of "still." As long as we’re “still” dating younger women or working 50 hours a week or running up the stairs, we’re okay. But eventually you cannot succeed by doing what you used to do. My hunch is that as boomers push into our seventies we’ll recognize that and refuse to be sidelined. Aging is not a disease. It can’t be fixed. 

What is the link between ageism and staying active in old age?
People who have positive attitudes towards aging walk faster, have better handwriting, recover more completely from surgery, and live longer. We should have an anti-ageism campaign as a public health initiative. Yes, losing your health sucks. But people who live with a fact-based, rather than fear-based, attitude toward aging are going to be healthier. It’s not that the scary stuff about aging isn’t real, but our fears are way out of proportion to the reality, and they make us more vulnerable to what we fear.

I know you use the term “olders” instead of seniors or elders. Why olders?
In a culture where everyone is terrified to be old, there’s cultural terror of being on the wrong side of the old versus young divide. I like “olders” and “youngers.” Everyone is older or younger than someone else. Older is value-neutral. Elder or senior implies hierarchy. Olders is a bridge. The root of ageism is age-denial, implying that old people are separate from us. We don’t have words for this longer lifespan that we have today. I say if there’s more road behind you than ahead of you, you’re not young. 

Why is ageism different from other “isms”?
It doesn’t make sense to discriminate against your future self. I am so over the skydiving granny who is supposed to be a role model. I think it’s important to say how old you are and question any fixed meaning attached to that number. We grow more variable as we age. There’s no way to reliably talk about what 90-year-olds can do when they’re all different. Aging is on a spectrum. Brains and bodies age at different rates. Most of us experience decline in some physical and mental faculties but not enough to be unable to enjoy life. 

How do you feel about women dyeing their hair?
I don’t want to tell women what to do, but I had an aha moment when I went to a matinee with an older audience and saw only one woman there with a gray head. It occurred to me that this is one way we collude in being invisible—by dyeing our hair. We should have a year of letting our hair go gray to see how many of us there are. I dye my hair white to fit in as an older.

What’s the latest in the fight against ageism? Are we making progress?
Absolutely. Look at the campaigns section of Old School, my anti-ageism clearinghouse. Australia has a national campaign called EveryAGE Counts, the World Health Organization has the Global Campaign to Combat Ageism, and New York and San Francisco have anti-ageism initiatives. Age and ageism are finally making their way into the diversity, equity, and inclusion discussions in the corporate world. I eventually envision a collaboration between the disability movement and the anti-ageism movement. It’s important to acknowledge both are fighting similar battles. 

What are the keys to successful aging?
Make friends of all ages. Find something you like to do and find people of all ages to do it with. Have a purpose in life. People who have a purpose—whether they want to succeed at bridge or end ageism—are enjoying life to the best of their abilities.

Featured event

 

Read like a star book club
Saturday, March 12
10 - 11 a.m. ET
*RSVP at least 24 hours in advance

Stars—they’re just like us! In this book club, you’ll read picks from celebrity book clubs like Oprah and Reese Witherspoon’s. March’s book is Beautiful Country, a selection from Jenna Bush Hager’s club. A poignant memoir about the American Dream, Beautiful Country is sure to spark some great conversation.

 
RSVP

Life Experienced exclusive event

Easy chicken dinner with Valerie

 

Exclusive events are brought to you by Life Experienced and are hosted by our ambassadors.

Loving everything outdoors

Cheryl loves anything that lets her spend time outdoors, whether it’s traveling, hiking, biking, or skiing. She started skiing to connect with her kids, and now it’s something she does for herself. Click on the video below to hear more about her adventures.

Partner spotlight

Mirthy is a rapidly growing social enterprise launched in 2020 to support individuals no longer in full-time work. Mirthy offers a comprehensive program of online events and a content library designed to bring like-minded people together to share interests and experiences, learn new things, and make new connections. Mirthy’s events are created and curated "by over-60s for over-60s."
Mirthy offers more than 80 online events every month covering a variety of health and well-being activities and learning interests such as pilates, yoga, concerts, cooking demonstrations, dancing and craft workshops, educational lectures, and much more. Learn more here.

What to watch

George Booth, the New Yorker cartoonist famous for his whimsical cartoons of bedraggled people and pets philosophizing about life in junk-filled living rooms, is still drawing at 95. Check out this documentary about his life and work. “Booth was born in the kitchen of his grandparents’ farmhouse in Cainsville, Missouri, a town so small that you pretty much have to know where it is already in order to find it on a map. … His sense of humor was indelibly shaped by his childhood, which was of a type that doesn’t exist anymore.” He drew his first cartoon at age 3 and never stopped. 

Become a partner

Does your organization reach a community of older adults? Get in touch with us for information on amplifying your events and activities on the platform and expanding the Life Experienced service to your network. There is no cost to partnering. Get in touch with us here: https://lifeexperienced.com/become-a-partner.

That’s it! Thanks for reading. And if you want to chime in with your two cents on what this newsletter should include, email us at Info@LifeExperienced.com

Until next time, 
Erica  
 
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