The other day, I got a letter from my friendly provincial government. Inside was a brochure. "Important information about seniors' drug benefits," it said in extra-large type, thoughtfully designed for aging eyes. I immediately threw it in the garbage. No! No! No! No! This does not mean me.
Stuff like this keeps coming, but I intend to hold out as long as possible. Denial seems like a perfectly reasonable strategy at this point. My husband feels the same. He won't even buy seniors' subway tickets. He refuses to be marked by the sign of the scarlet S.
But I am beginning to realize that it's not your pension cheque or your subway tickets that give you away. It's your attitude.
Back in the dawn of time, when I was a bright-eyed young thing, I learned how irritating the elderly can be. Some of the people I was supposed to manage were as old as I am now. They were on the pension countdown. They had seen my ilk come and go, and they were cynical and jaded. Nothing could pierce their essential negativity. Whenever I had a new idea, they would say, "We tried that once, and it didn't work."
I vowed that I would never, ever be like that. But the other day at work, I actually heard myself say, "We tried that once." It was mortifying. It was worse than finding a whisker on my chin.
In an effort to avoid turning into tiresome old crocks, my husband and I have made a pact. Whenever we get together with friends, two subjects are forbidden. One is medical procedures. We do not want to hear the details of your prostate exam or your colonoscopy, and in return, we won't tell you about ours. You'd be amazed at how difficult it is to enforce this rule. Twenty years ago, everyone our age was obsessed with real estate. Today, they're obsessed with tests and body parts. This isn't progress.
The other subject we discourage is what's wrong with kids today. Boomers were the generation who vowed to never grow old, at least in spirit. But the older we get, the more we sound exactly like our grandparents. Kids today don't work as hard as we did. They're too entitled. They're not smart with their money. They're practically illiterate. They don't want to put in the time. They have no respect for experience. Their children are spoiled and have no manners. Why can't they be like we were, perfect in every way?
Griping about the shortcomings of the young is strangely irresistible to many people over 60. It's also the conversational equivalent of orthopedic shoes – a dead giveaway that you're past it.
But the biggest challenge of getting old is the growing awareness that you no longer understand what's going on. This is especially hard for boomers, who've spent their entire lives at the centre of what's gong on. Now we find that larger and larger parts of the world are receding from our comprehension.
For example, I have no idea what many of my friends' kids do. They're not doctors, lawyers or plumbers. They're social-media marketers or digital platform builders. Or they're in charge of customer experience. One of them organizes Twitter feeds for businesses. Another has a top-secret job for Chowhound, weeding out phony restaurant reviews. (Congratulations if you're over 60 and know what Chowhound is.) The other day, my own newspaper sent around a job posting for a "Scrum Master." Huh?
I know how to turn on my computer, more or less. But my understanding of social media is sketchy at best. I can use Twitter and Facebook, although I feel no need to. But Mashable, Instagram, Foursquare, Tumblr and Pinterest are mysteries. Perhaps they'll go away before I have to learn about them. Some news stories are totally opaque. I learned the other day that Taylor Swift left Spotify, but I'm not sure who she is, what that is or why it matters.
Thanks to my younger informants, I have a rudimentary grasp of OkCupid and Grindr, which, I'm told, have pretty well destroyed the market for hookup bars. I am impressed that you can now find someone to have sex with you without even having to leave home. I know a lot of people who met their partners online. I am aware that the story of how I met my husband – in person, at a party, where we actually exchanged phone numbers – is beginning to sound as quaint as an arranged marriage.
I don't even have a smartphone. "Don't put that in," my husband told me. "It will make you sound eccentric."
Believe me, I'm not complaining. This is the best time in history to be old. We're the youngest older people who ever lived, and extraordinary numbers of us can expect to avoid the impediments of age for many years to come. Many of us still have engaging work. We jaunt around the world. We do nearly all the things we did when we were 30, only slower. Some of us don't even look that old (or so we fool ourselves).
But hardening of the brain, like hardening of the arteries, is something that creeps up on you, and you must do what you can to resist it. My advice is to spend less time with old coots and more time hanging out with people who are 10 or 20 or 50 years younger than you are. You might learn something. They're pretty smart. And they probably know who Taylor Swift is.