Observation on myths of aging, by L.E. Taylor
JUST OPENED A WEBSITE for a company I might want to do business with. Couldn’t read it without jacking the image up to 175 %. Who designs this stuff?
Years ago, at least a couple of decades, I was unsettled by an email from a person I’d known in high school. She was complaining about something or other and used a chilling term of despair, “we seniors”. (Italics for irony, mine.)
My immediate response, exclaimed aloud – “What’s with the ‘we’?”
I sat bolt upright and stared at the mute computer screen. “What’s your hurry?” I barked. This was no quaint denial reflex; I was perplexed. Still am.
Let me put it out there for all to know: L.E. Taylor is exactly as young as he thinks. As he moves. As he feels. As he is perceived.
Way too many among us are ready to find excuses to plead old age and quit. Whatever the irritant, whether an ailment or a grievance, a disappointment or some imagined slight to their feelings or affront to their politics, many people who have much to be thankful for are ready to toss in the cards and mope out of the room. The country is lost! The end is coming; we’re gonna die! (Well, that part is true, it came along with the birth certificate.) Why invest in the worst that might happen? Poppycock.
For nearly two years, I’ve been coaching adult writing workshops in the north Dallas area. The original idea was to help an aging generation with their memoir writing. Before launch, it dawned on me that “memoirs” implies a daunting task, even for me, even back in my forties. So I renamed the program “Family Storytelling.” Soon, the descriptor “Great” was added. And that it is: Great Family Storytelling.
If I do say so.
The target audience, of course, was the more seasoned population of, okay…“seniors.” But the objective is not to propose another docile pastime for fogies; it’s to encourage the mental effort and the practical skills needed to write down one’s personal stories in the clear style they deserve, in ways that are a pleasure to read. And to make it fun.
I quickly learned that the process is also, as I’d hoped, psychologically healing to individuals who have a lot of stories sleeping in their attics.
Trouble is, so many have surrendered to entertainment and ease that they are more focused on petty distractions than they are upon their unique legacies to family and kin.
In session number one, I promised students that I would not dumb-down the drill; as a fellow-member of the 30’s generation, I respect their years, but do not see them as sick or stupid. This, I said, will be taught as a college workshop. Nobody walked out.
Over the months, in nearly fifty sessions now, I’ve seen scores of adult students transform from stuck mode to active as they embraced the challenge. Many have arrived at the workshops already overcommitted with retirement activities and stay-at-home duties. Some were dubious about their capabilities and they said so.
Still, they come to their weekly two-hour workouts, equipped by their assigned reading in the best short literature, and ready to share with peers their own hard-sculpted prose. We read our freshly minted work aloud to generational compatriots, and critique each other’s product.
The result is dynamic, much greater than the sum of its humble parts. I’ve watched these individuals thwart their aging, and, as the wizard Merlin did, begin to… youth-en.
THESE ARE “ADULT” classes (the euphemism for grandma and gramps), but many “juniors” have asked to attend. And why not? Well, for one thing, the rookies would be at a disadvantage: Seniors have more material. But we’re all here to learn from each other, right?
Many of my friends are decades younger than my chronological years. Both males and females, they embrace life in diverse ways. College seniors near graduation, millennial graphic designers and musicians, semi-employed actor-waiters, young fast food managers, talented hair cutters and hardworking landscapers; all ethnicities.
With investment of time and attention, some of these I have grown to care about more than a little.
As I consider one or two of my dearest young pals, I sense an electric connection, invisible and subtle. One fellow is a single father of two young girls. One, a poet and song-smith, is lead musician in a rock band that plays in Deep Ellum. A serene young woman is a navy veteran and mathematician, soon to march out again with a new degree to face an uncaring corporate world. They like me. One calls me “LT.” The poet calls me, “man.” She… doesn’t call me, actually.
I’m reminded of my mom Grace, working at a college town department store; she was embraced by a sisterhood of raucous young women. They fed off her energy, her wisdom, and her irreverent humor. She wasn’t an old bag in denial, she was just herself – still young and looking it. She got as much from them as they from her.
I glance at my e-mails. The type fonts are often too tiny to read. Can it be that there are humans who can read 8 point type? Was there a day that I could? (See Ref. #4).
At the liquor store checkout counter today, I adjust my Walmart reading glasses, sign my receipt and ask the girl, “Okay, let’s see some ID.” Huh? “I don’t believe you’re old enough to sell me wine.” She giggles. I tell her I’m just kidding. She replies that she is going on thirty-one, but she’s fibbing; I can see pimples under her makeup. I lift the paper sack and pause. We peer directly at each other. “Take a guess,” I say.
The counter girl squints, chews a lip, blushes, and ventures, “Fifty.”
“Good guess,” I say. And leave.