Boomers rewriting the book on aging

But generation's authors are debunking myth of eternal youth

March 09, 2011|Susan Reimer

My generation, the baby boomers, reinvented jeans, sex and parenting, so it is no surprise that as we age, we are putting a new spin that, too.

This was never going to go smoothly. Aging, I mean. Boomers are so reluctant to acknowledge, much less adapt to, even the tiniest erosions of time that we will drive the health care system off the cliff in our pursuit of eternal youth.

And since boomers love to talk about themselves, we are writing about aging, too.

Judith Viorst, the children's book author our children loved, has turned writing about aging into a modest franchise. And Susan Jacoby makes us feel like fools for ever thinking it would go well.

Viorst is the author of "Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day," which was my son's favorite book as a toddler. Well, Alexander is all grown up and does community development lending at a bank, and his mother is 80.

Her latest book is "Unexpectedly Eighty," the sequel to "Suddenly Sixty" and "I'm Too Young to be Seventy."

In this book of verse, Viorst describes aging with wry amusement, if not downright astonishment:

"My scalp is now showing. My moles keep on growing. My waistline and breasts have converged. My teeth resist brightening. I'm in decline. It's positively frightening.

"A new moon's arriving, Sinatra is jiving. My husband is holding my hand. The white wine is chilling. I'm still alive. It's positively thrilling."

There is melancholy in the book, especially when Viorst writes about her mother. But there is laughter, too. "Love what you've got while you've got it," the author has told interviewers.

But there is nothing to laugh about in Jacoby's book, "Never Say Die," in which she debunks the new myths of old age — that we will have active and fulfilled lives of good heath and modest prosperity until we drop dead on the tennis court.

She describes the epidemic of Alzheimer's that will sweep through the boomer population as it ages. She paints a picture of a life of increasing fragility, mental decline, isolation and poverty, especially for women.

Jacoby lambastes the pharmaceutical giants who are peddling the myth that we have cured old age because we can alleviate its symptoms. While 70 may be the new 60, 90 is not, and never will be, the new 50. After 80 or 85, it is downhill, and fast.

Jacoby makes the case for all sorts of public policy changes that would focus on the enormous drain the aging of the boomers will be on government and society. And she has sensible advice for those of us on the downhill side of the mountain: Live in a big city, where there is plenty of stimulation and public transportation.

Viorst, in contrast, enumerates the pleasures of her life, such as pie and grandchildren, and wishes, as she puts it, to be around for a lot of lingering sunsets.

And a lot of sunrises as well.

susan.reimer@baltsun.com

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