July 18, 2015 § 11 Comments
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.