26 September

On Creative Aging

by Jon Katz
On Creative Aging
On Creative Aging

In November I’ve been invited to give a Ted Talk and the topic I chose is Creative Aging, something I’ve been writing about for the past few years.  I decided some time ago that the only way to age sanely in America and have a meaningful life is to disregard almost everything anyone in our world tells you about getting older, especially from 50 years on.

The elderly have vanished almost entirely from our popular culture – from movies, TV shows, magazines and most novels, except when they are portrayed as drooling, doddering, decaying old fools. The only national magazine older people have is the hoary AARP magazine, which puts movie stars on its cover at every opportunity, sells all kinds of insurance and runs stories about putting a GPS on grandma so she doesn’t get lost. It was such a pleasure to cancel the subscription I never asked for.

When you do read about older people, it is mostly in terms of illness, health care and the skyrocketing costs of taking care of elderly people who are kept alive for years beyond reason so they can take tests, get on 20 kinds of pills and get blamed for the national deficit. Long term health insurance is the one thing I have been told I need since I was 40 years old, and every single thing I’ve read about it says it is pointless, because costs rise so rapidly no policy will cover the costs of aging in just a few years.

Fortunately for me, I couldn’t grow older that way. I got divorced, the recession hit, publishing was forever altered and I found myself with two farms to maintain in a real estate market that had collapsed. I don’t have to worry about long term health insurance, money in the bank,  IRA’s or a comfortable pension. I’m not getting any of those things, and my life has never been happier, healthier or more full of meaning. When things get really bad, I told Maria to push me into the Battenkill in my wheelchair. If she won’t, I roll there myself.

I am not downsizing my life or shrinking it to meet the small expectations our society has of older people. I bought Bedlam Farm when I was in my 50s, (five years later I found love and started taking photos) and I bought Bedlam Farm 2.0 when I was sixty-five. My body is changing, I am dealing with diabetes, I sometimes need a strategy to stand up if I’ve been on the ground awhile. I know where I am, I know where I am going.

But I understand that I will have to age creatively. I have to say no to doctors because I don’t want health to be the only thing on my mind or in my life,  there is no media for me, no role models to inspire me or give me direction. I have learned that one can find love and meaning at any age, and there is no more important long term life insurance than that, a meaningful life is the healthiest life anyone can possibly live.

Like most realities in the Corporate Nation aging is always presented in terms of money, by pharmaceuticals, insurance companies, lobbied politicians. They need us to be fearful and take our pills, there is a lot of money in America in aging fearfully and poorly, in vanishing from public view into nursing and retirement and memory care facilities, that is their fate for us, it works for them. It doesn’t work for me, is is neither creative nor meaningful, I will not get angry about it, I will get creative about it.

We live in a wonderful country that is often cruel and corrupted by money, so creative aging comes from within, not from without. It is often lonely and self-directed, I have learned to trust my instincts and emotions, not the messages of other people, not the TV screen’s in doctor’s waiting rooms warning me of my declining body, not the stream of warnings on social media. My creative spark has never burned more brightly than when I decided life was not ending for me, but was in so many ways just beginning.

So I make decisions every day that I am told are short-sighted, reckless, foolhardy. The more of them I make, the happier I am, the better my life. Decisions made in the fearful shadows of other people are never good, at least for me.

I am finding people who seek a real life, not a smaller one, who define health more broadly than medications and procedures, they are refugees, freaks, members of a small and secret tribe. You will never see us on TV, in movies or books but we find one another, remind each other than full loves are possible, that we can tell our own stories about life and it’s many riches, at any age, even without big fat IRA’s and long-term insurance policies.

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