I like reading Jenny Diski, an expert in not much of anything but always interesting in terms of her original takes and quirky turns of phrase.
She is a British born boomer who came of age, and out of a fractured home, in the 1960s and did everything that her generation was presumed to be doing (drugs, free love, socialism, communes, protests, riots) though, in truth, few had the nerve.
Last week she was writing about aging and reviewing various books on the subject in the London Review of Books (She mentions India Knight’s In Your Prime: How to Age Disgracefully)
Says Jenny Diski:
“I’m of the cohort which lived inside a gilded bubble when young, and made a proper song and dance about it … but is now clearly thinking of itself as old, and you can be sure this won’t happen quietly.”
Last year, at age 66, she referred to herself as old in a newspaper piece and was immediately taken severely to task by a Swedish nurse who works with people in their mid-80’s “who think of people your age as young and who never refer to themselves as old.” At the same time, she notices how store clerks and her hair dresser treat her as old or otherwise largely beside the point.
“That’s me told, then, every which way,” she concludes.
“People are going to be cross with you for declaring agedness too soon as well as too late, but it’s not that easy to identify the right moment. According to Scientific American, we ought to be able to sniff out where we are at.”
The principal book she is sniffing out is Lynne Segal’s Out of Time, which devotes a good deal of attention to the so-called war between generations. As Jenny Diski sums the party line, “Our pensions, the medical expertise and equipment, the time and energy needed to care and cater for a disproportionately large aged population: all this, the young have been told, is coming out of their earnings and limiting their wellbeing.
“Those who become ill or develop age-related conditions are to blame for failing to keep themselves bright and sparky … dependency with increasing age becomes something about which the old should apologize.”
Since oldsters have been paying into Social Security and Medicare all of their long lives — and working and scrimping to raise their kids and their kids — neither Diski nor Segal is buying these “political lies and half-truths.”
Nor does either blame the young for being angry; they blame the media for uncritically perpetuating distorted statistics and political cover stories — ideological excuses for the congressmen who have been misappropriating all those Social Security and Medicare contributions for all those years and misusing the money to solidify their own power.
Yes, the incomes of seniors increased slightly over the past decade – but from what level? Twenty to thirty percent of them live in poverty.
There’s more, though much of it – for both author and reviewer – is preoccupied with demolishing prissy confusions and squirmy attitudes concerning sex and health for aging women, none of which lends itself to tidy summations here by an ignorant male writer. Get the book.
Or don’t. Chances are, it won’t be on the final.