Planned obsolescence.

July 18, 2015 § 11 Comments

Gears.Some things are designed to break down or go out of style.

The human being is such a product.

Parts age, function less well, then fail; destruction is built right into the design.

As for going out of style, boy do we ever, but we have built that in ourselves.

We could value the old for their experience and wisdom, but we go for the new the young, the shiny every time.

Aging and the old are a source of cheap jokes.

About looks: How do I get rid of these crow’s feet and wrinkles? Go bra-less. The weight will smooth those wrinkles right out!

About mental capacity: Why should seniors use valet parking? Because the valet will remember where he parked the car.

Okay, I get the fact that these are jokes, but in a crass way they demonstrate what we think of the old, those poor foolish dodderers.

But aging is so much more subtle than that. Knees go, sure. Memories falter. But some things actually get better.

Age brings a calm that does not buy into the pushy, me-firstness of youth. The demanding self diminishes in importance.

Perhaps I was never suited to being young in that respect, but I prefer the collaborative, we’re-all-in-this-together feeling that is a hallmark of age.

What a relief to know that I am no longer expected to write my name across the sky.

All around me friends who are also growing older, use their time to mentor kids, grow community gardens, comfort the dying, fight for causes–and none are doing it to shine up a resume.

Despite having to make peace with inevitable physical changes as my body ages, I don’t think I have ever felt as happy as I do now, or as useful–but there is one aspect of aging which disturbs me deeply.


As with all proofs that I am growing old, the news that with age comes irrelevance was delivered to me in a very personal way.

I wrote a book titled, “The Best For Last,” a romantic novel set in an assisted living facility. Carpenter and Willa are both seventy-eight, and both carry the baggage of a lifetime of joys and regrets. This is not a book about fluttery first love. This is a late life appraisal of love by two veteran hearts deciding whether or not to take one last chance.

My literary agent, who liked the book, said it would be a hard (or impossible) sell. He quoted from a rejection letter received by one of his other clients, “readers prefer to read about younger people, ideally under forty.”

He is a kind and caring agent, but wanting me to know what we are up against, he included articles that backed up that contention—and the news got worse.

According to Faye Weldon, a highly respected (and mature) author, it is not just older characters who are in trouble. The older writer is in the cross-hairs of the publishing industry as well.

The message: don’t write about old and don’t be old.

The reasoning in the industry goes like this.

Most book buyers are under 45. Older readers check books out of the library, and no one, including older people wants to read about older people. The first two facts are probably supported by solid data, but the last sounds shaky.

I think publishers are selling readers short when they assume that young readers could not possibly be interested in engaging, fully realized older characters, or that older readers are so avidly seeking lost youth they would not want to read about someone with life experience equal to their own.

For me, the news that this is the attitude of the publishing industry was devastating. Storytelling, the thing that sustains me and explains the world, cannot include older people because no one cares about them (make that us). And while I’m at it, I’d better downplay the fact that by virtue of my age I am no longer relevant either.

But the irrelevance of the old is a societal decision, not a fact. Like the bogey man it is only real if we believe in it.

I am not pitting old against young. Humanity needs both wisdom and energy, experience and innovation . The old and the young need each other, but we, the Boomers are a huge generation and we are not without resources or power.

We have a choice to make.

We can assume the apologetic, excuse-me-for-living stance expected of us, or stand up for ourselves and for each other, living until we die and keeping our voices strong in the chorus that is life.

Note: I’m in a rewrite phase with The Best For Last based on notes from my agent. When I am done he will attempt to sell a story of late-life love to an editor who will very likely be under thirty. I’ll keep you posted.

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§ 11 Responses to Planned obsolescence.

  • Pat Skene says:

    A very interesting post. This has been the mantra of the advertising world forever and ever amen. I don’t know your age, but as a boomer, I think we are a strong breed of woman, having fought our way through the testosterone jungles of the last decades. We should be up to the challenge to take on this one as well. Look at the novel and monster hit…”The 100 Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared” as a delicious example! Keep punching!


    • Thanks for the thoughtful, stand-up comment. Yes, we are a tough group–I forgot all about that earlier fight for our rights as women, but we have been insisting we be taken seriously for a long long time.

      Thanks also for that title. Let me add “Olive Kitteredge” to the very short list of successful novels about older characters.


  • craig reeder says:

    age brings (for some) a greater understanding of people, and if we are lucky, of ourselves. and i think there is, in fact, an element of relevancy. as you mention, our pride and ego no longer drive us as they once did, and it frees us up to do things with true impact on others, like open up an all-volunteer library to enrich the lives of kids that need cultural exposure, or help out with a food bank, etc. those kind of things may be invisible to the general public, but they have impact, and therefore are indeed relevant.


  • KM Huber says:

    We are the generation of change, whether or not that has always served us/the world well. As women, “we have come a long way,” and as writers, it seems we have a bit more to go. Publishing is in such flux, and that goes for traditional as well as independent/self-publishing. To me, traditional publishing cannot seem to get a toe-hold in the ever changing paradigm of publishing. Of late, the flexibility of hybrid publishing seems to offer both authors and publishers a way to reach agreement. It may be a beginning. I do believe your book will find its way into print, perhaps in a hybrid publishing deal. There is a market for love that occurs later in life–boomers are an active generation–that is evident in movies and television. As Pat mentioned, we’re up to taking this one on as well. It’s not as if we lack the experience.


    • Yes, traditional publishing is having a hard time in the agility department. It is not keeping up in so many ways, including taking the pulse of what readers want to read. It is a lumbering Goliath surrounded by an infinite number of fast-moving Davids. It still has the infrastructure to launch a book with a lot of momentum though, and with all the vetting it does, it produces a well-edited book. I sure hope that lumbering Goliath catches up soon.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Paul of Flowerland Mountains says:

    Ms Adrian:
    … and the interesting things that are self-published by both established and new authors are often passed over by the juggernaut of the popular press because of the lack of publishing house “weight” behind it;
    So: Much of this post seems to be about how humility is fostered and parented within us – despite our own unwillingness to give up “having it our way”;
    Strangely enough, though I too have found myself in a very different place in life’s journey after having my toes stubbed repeatedly because the steps were just too high or wierdly shaped to hold me, and after finding my progress no further despite much life’s essence and truth rubbed away by the daily grindstone (which is unchanged despite all of what it tore off of me,
    — repeatedly I have found — after developing mastery of various aspects of life that I had not developed until AFTER reaching maturity for some time — that the purpose for doing something is “… because I can!”.
    Maybe that is a really young statement?
    or is it the result of sufficient mastery on a prior level so that I am starting a new life and am young at this new level?
    Maybe our expectations of the publishing and music and other institutionalized industries which are attempting to just repeat successes rather than take chance on trying new things — should be to treat them as obsolescent, not ourselves?
    Just as I interact with my 86 year old mother differently now than when she was younger (like last year); aware that she is no longer able or willing to do new things like she did before,
    so we need to accord these institutions as likewise infirm, decadent, overly conservative, and obsolescent… (not that my mother is any of these things other than that she feels infirm – she isn’t really … he says with appropriate covering of the eyes … haha)


    • Yes, perhaps publishing and the music industries are, themselves, experiencing a bit of the irrelevance society bestows on high mileage humans. They are certainly less agile in this new world than they were when they wrote the rules of the road for literature and music.

      I like your notion that you are young at being this next stage of person. If so, we get to be young over and over, as many times as we are willing to change.


  • Sue Cronkite says:

    Actually there are elderly people in most real literary books. Atticus is not young in To Kill a Mockingbird, an elderly woman, played by Judy Dench in the movie, jerks up a failed family and moves them back home in Shipping News, only three young people are in Lee Smith’s Family Linen which centers around an elderly person dying — none of her children are young, in Lee’s Last Girls, a trip taken by college friends is revisited by the same in their later years. I could go on and on. Probably, in my thinking, a mixture of elderly and youngsters fits me better. I am 82. I do read books from the library. Without the elderly there would likely not be many libraries left. I do buy books. That’s what I give the young people in my family. I’m enjoying Shel Silverstein’s A Light in the Attic, before I give it to my great grandson on his 8th birthday next week.
    I too have written a book about an elderly person who decides to hold her own wake because that’s when “people will come to see you.”
    It’s making the rounds under a changed name because one of my grandsons said he thought she was dying by the title, so I changed it to suit him. Louette’s Wake is now Sweet Bye and Bye. His letter also said he laughed and cried at the antics in the book.
    I’ll keep writing, because I enjoy life more when I pull out my memories, dust them off and put them to use on pages, which aren’t paper any more, but computer files.
    You are an excellent writer, Adrian. Keep pushing for the late-life romance. I am looking forward to reading it. I’ll buy it and check it out of the library.


    • Literary fiction comes from an industry that was confident and run by those who believed in the power of good writing. Publishing is much more corporate and money-driven now, and the possibility that anyone can publish a book has made traditional publishers scramble. Publishing never was an industry with a big profit margin and it is being slimmed down by the changes brought on by new technologies.

      Libraries seem to exist now for older people and the poor and near-poor. Need a computer and don’t have one? Go to the library. Homeless and cold? Warm up at the library while reading the paper. Have kids and need a free safe, place to take them? Library. Need a book with older characters? “Olive Kitteredge” is there on the shelf. I hope that libraries always exist. What a shabby and grim world it would be without them.

      Readers out there, I’ve read Sue’s book under the old title, “Louette’s Wake,” and I hope some publisher shows the good sense to pick the book up no matter what it is called. What a good, big-hearted story!


  • Sue Cronkite says:

    I just thought of another great book with an elderly person as the protagonist: Walking Across Egypt by Clyde Edgerton. And what about To Dance with the White Dog, by Terry Kay? Many great movies are from books about unusual old people.


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